Thursday, June 16, 2011

Around the Big XII, part 10. Missouri.

You might think that I'm predicting Missouri to win the conference by being the last team I talk about.  That's not really correct.  I just like to save my favorite for last.  But on the other hand, the Tigers are one of really 6 teams that could win this conference if a few things went right for them.  As a matter of fact, had Blaine Gabbert and Aldon Smith returned, Mizzou could well have been the co-favorite along with Oklahoma.  However, with the emergence of Brad Madison last year and with kids like Kony Ealy, Michael Sam, Marcus Malbrough and Brayden Burnett waiting in the wings, defensive end looks like it should continue to be a strength.  And yes, it would have been nice to return Blaine's experience, but I'm not at all convinced that James Franklin may well be a better fit for the spread offense.  It seems that it appeared that way to Blaine's younger brother, Tyler who transferred out last month despite being 2nd on the depth chart following a red shirt freshman season, and who was ranked at the top until the final week of spring practice.
The Tigers return 9 starters, including 4 linemen from an offense that took a small step back last year.  The deep ball was absent compared to previous seasons, which could be the QB's or the receivers fault.  What they really lacked was a Jeremy Maclin/Danario Alexander type receiver that was a danger to take any catch to the house at any time.  All 3 starters return, as well as last years freshman class that was considered one of the best groups in the nation the year they were recruited.  You can put TJ Moe in as a starter in ink pen but I think Wes Kemp and Jerrell Jackson are going to have to work hard to keep their spots away from guys like Bud Sasser, Jimmie Hunt, Marcus Lucas, Gahn McGaffie and a host of others.  The top 4 rushers return with an experienced line in front of them and we've read reports that those line splits were shrinking and the Tigers were showing signs of adding more of a power running game to their offense.
Defensively the Tigers return 7 starts but a shitload of talent that saw action last year.  The key here, in my opinion will be the return of a healthy Dominique Hamilton to the nose tackle position.  The Tigers were incredibly difficult to run on when he and Terrell Resonno manned the tackle positions, and not quite as good following his injury against Oklahoma.  Adding a year to guys like Lucas Vincent and Marvin Foster  can only help and Jimmy Burge is a solid back up.  Gerrand Johnson will probably red shirt but there's plenty of talent there also.  The linebacking crew should be solid and although Mizzou lost 3 starters in the defensive backfield, Kip Edwards saw a lot of action as nickel cornerback and the coaches are raving about sophomore E.J. Gaines.  Trey Hobson, Robert Steeples and Tristen Holt will be providing pressure for starting roles also.  Lots of competition for the starting safety position opposite Kenji Jackson also.
As with everyone else, the new Big XII schedule is going to be brutal for all concerned.  Toss in a Friday night game in Tempe against Arizona State there are probably 7 games the Tigers could legitimately lose even if they played well.  The conference opener against Oklahoma will probably label contender or pretender for Mizzou.  Win, or at least play well and we'll be looking at 9 or 10 wins.  Get blown out and there's a chance, albeit a small one that the season could unravel.  But what Gary Pinkel has built in Columbia is truly remarkable and I'm going to predict a 9-3 season and a nice bowl game.  Tiger nation now begins to view 8 wins as the floor.  It's going to be tougher to sustain the type of success they've enjoyed the last 4 years, but I believe we have the players and coaching staff to do just that.  Not sure what we'll talk about next time but I'll think of something.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Around the Big XII, part 9. Oklahoma

Well, this is when we discuss the 800 lb gorilla portion of the outlooks for 2011.  Once again the Oklahoma Sooners look to be the favorite to win the conference and one of the prohibitive favorites to appear in the national championship game next January.  Last year the Sooners went 12-2, beating hick nation in the final conference championship game, at least for now in the Big XII, and a 48-20 win over an overmatched 8-5 Connecticut team in the Fiesta Bowl that adds more fuel to the fire over automatic berths in the BCS series.   But the 2 losses the Sooners suffered in weeks 7 and 9 at Columbia and College Station derailed their early season # 1 ranking and kept them from any consideration for a spot in the title game.  Both Mizzou and the Aggies of A&M beat OU because they were tougher up front and wanted it more in the 4th quarter.  This was the secret of both OU and Texas.  Yep, they had generally better skill players, but where they overwhelmed teams was on the offensive and defensive lines.  With the new round robin schedule the jury is still out on whether OU and Coach Stoops have the horses to dominate up front like they did just a few years ago.
On offense, Landry Jones returns as the trigger man on the Oklahoma offense.  Last season Jones completed over 65% of his passes for over 4,700 yards and 38 touchdowns, but what I remember from him was the 4th quarter in CoMO when he was held to 0 completions in the 4th quarter as the Tigers pulled away from OU.  Ok, what I remember even more was the look of disbelief in the arrogant OU fans as we walked out of the stadium.  Pure Gold!!!   The Sooners also return such offensive stars as running back Jonathan Miller and wide receiver Kenny Stills and most of a young offensive line that need to play better this year if the Sooners are to reach their goals.  So far, this just can't be considered a given.  Oklahoma really lacked some defensive fire power last year but returns some solid starters like Austin Box at middle linebacker and Javon Harris at free safety.  But when you look at the front 7 they appear to be a bit undersized with 284 pound Stacy McGee at defensive tackle, 238 pound defensive end Ronnell Lewis and 199 pound outside linebacker Tony Jefferson.  Talented or not, these guys need to have spent a lot of time with their strength and conditioning coach before the season starts or they're going to loose battles simply by size differential in this conference.  Speed is great but you have to have some muscle to go with it up front.
Oklahoma has no cake walk this year as they travel to Tallahassee to face Florida State in week 2, followed by their conference opener as they host my Missouri Tigers in a game that will go a long way toward determining the pecking order in the conference.  The road will be tough as they travel to Kansas State, Oklahoma State and Baylor.  Only a trip to lawrence to face the beaks offers significant relief.  There is also a date at the Fairgrounds of Dallas when they meet what should be an improved Texas team that has no problem getting up for the Red River Shootout.In addition to the Tigers OU plays host to Texas Tech and A&M.  Neither of those figures to be cake walks although Iowa State should be. In the new Big XII it's going to be almost impossible to finish the season unbeaten, especially when a team has as many questions as the Sooners do right now in my opinion.  I think OU is going to be very good, but I believe they're going to stumble at least twice and possibly as many as 3 times this year.  In addition, don't be surprised if they stumble at home to either the Tigers or the Aggies.
Next time we'll take our final outlook for the coming season as I talk about my guys, the Missouri Tigers.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Around the Big XII, part 8. Texas A&M

On October 16th of last year I had officially written Texas A&M off as well as their head coach, Mike Sherman.  The Aggies, after starting 3-0 had just lost their 3rd game in a row, a 30-9 dismantling by my Missouri Tigers in College Station.  If you know much about football in the state of Texas, then you know they have very little patience when it comes to losing.  Especially when you're the Longwhorns little brother.  It seemed inevitable that Sherman would be fired following the season if not before.  But then something unexpected happened as A&M went on a 6 game winning streak, including victories over Texas Tech, Oklahoma, Baylor, Texas and Nebraska.  They wound up 9-3 on the season and 6-2 in conference, finishing up in the 5 way tie at the top.  The move that enabled them to make this turnaround was when they replaced the pre-season favorite of 1st team Big XII QB Jerrod Johnson with Ryan Tannehill.
But one thing you can count on is that what happened last year doesn't really matter this year.  A&M is absolutely loaded, losing 1 starter from their offense and 3 from the defense.  Their fan base is going to be expecting a BCS appearance and league championship and anything less will be considered a failure.  And if you're familiar with their fan base, then you know they lean to the weird side, from the habit of squeezing their own testicles and from there, it just gets worse.
Once again the non conference schedule starts out easy enough with home games against SMU and Idaho, before Oklahoma State comes to town, and then a contest against Arkansas at Jerry World.  If they manage to lose only one of those, they have a good chance to match last years record.  A trip to Norman will certainly be a huge challenge, but otherwise they trip to Texas Tech, Kansas State and Iowa State.  At home, contests against Baylor and kansas should be wins, but Mizzou comes to town on October 29th which should make their already weird fan base even weirder.  They also close the season at home against cross state big brother Texas.  I'm predicting a final record of 8-4 for A&M and 6-3 in conference.  In the new Big XII that will be more than respectable, but I imagine the Sherman hot seat will be warming up again.

Next time we'll talk about the big dogs in the conference, the Oklahoma Sooners.  If you'd like to look at some new Tiger gear, please stop by my store or if you'd just like to catch up on the latest news, stop by current events for Tigers, NCAA and professional sports news as well as odd shit of the day.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Around the Big XII, part 7. Texas

Everyone knows one.  He's the richest guy on the block, in the company or even in your own family.  He drives a car that was built in Germany, wears a diamond pinkie ring and Armani suits.  It wouldn't be a problem at all, except the guy is nothing but a monumental prick and always reminds you just how well off he is and how your life pales in comparison.  That, in a nutshell is Texas fan.  The richest program in the NCAA, Big XII titles galore, and an athletic director that not only can go out and hire any coach for any sport that he desires but had the balls and the power to play both Larry Scott and Jim Delaney, commissioners of the Pac 10 and Big Ten respectively last year when they thought they were going to break up the Big XII and become the new power brokers in college athletics.  What they got for their efforts was Utah, Colorado and Nebraska.  Tough to be considered much of a mover and shaker when you're hanging out with Orrin Hatch and Larry the cable guy. 
But all that power and all that success was what made last year so enjoyable watching Texas stumble to a 5-7 record and 2-6 in conference play.  Particularly when they went on a 4 game skid, including losses to Iowa State, Baylor and Kansas State after beating the hicks in Lincoln.  Well, things like that just don't happen to Texas without someone getting whacked.  In this case it was both coordinators and both line coaches.  After all, it had to be the coaching right?  After all, Texas doesn't recruit players, they select them.  Of course, this was the same staff that had the whorns in the national championship game just a year earlier.  The important thing is that Mack Brown keeps making his 5 million dollar plus annual salary and nothing like standing up for men that he'd hired and trusted.  The simple fact was, Texas discovered they were mortal and sometimes shit just happens to mortals.
At first glance, it looks like Texas will find out a lot about themselves early as their non conference schedule features home games against Rice and BYU before traveling to Los Angeles to face UCLA.  I'm not that sold on either the Bruins or Cougars being all that tough and Rice perennially blows so we really may not know much about them until October 8th when they meet Oklahoma in the annual Red River Shootout, which for some reason is still being played at the Cotton Bowl.  I'm predicting that to be their first loss of the season, but I think it's going to be followed by at least 3 others.  Oklahoma State travels to Austin the following week and that's an extremely losable game for them.  Road trips to Texas A&M, Baylor and Missouri are going to be really tough also.  Texas will be back in a bowl game this year, and probably contending for conference and national titles again soon, as long as the impatience of their fans and athletic director cause them to make a series of rash decisions.  It's the only problem I can see with having a lot of money.  You always think you can just buy your way out of any problems.
Next time we'll talk about the little brother of Texas, the A&M Aggies.