Missouri: Where's the D?
Gary Pinkel and co. have become famous for building elite-level offenses that can fling the ball all over the field and take advantage of open running lanes. But Missouri has also become infamous for letting teams light up the scoreboard on the other side of the ball.
With Missouri, this never seems to make sense. The Tigers have outstanding athletes, and talent on defense. But for whatever reason, these players (who look great on-the-hoof) don't showcase that talent when the lights flip on.
It's not that the Tigers don't have individual players who play well. Defensive end Aldon Smith was a terror off the edge last year, grabbing 11.5 sacks. The defensive backs can run. And the linebacking unit has solid players like Andrew Gachkar and elite-level athletes like Zaviar Gooden. In previous seasons, the Tigers have produced high draft picks off the defense like William Moore, Ziggy Hood and, most recently, Sean Weatherspoon. But, with the exception of 2007, that talent hasn't seemed to correlate to a strong defensive unit. Last season, the Tigers were 104th in the country, and 11th in the Big 12 in passing defense. With a pass rusher like Smith, and the speed around him on defense, that's unacceptable.
Will the Tigers be better on defense in 2010? Well, like always, they seem to have some pieces. But the reason the Tigers are picked second to Nebraska has to do with one thing, and that's the fact that Missouri isn't expected to field a high-level defense.
Oklahoma State: How long will it take the Cowboys to get back?
2009 was supposed to be THE year for the Cowboys. They returned an embarrassment of riches offensively, were expected to make an improvement on defense and were tapped as dark horse candidates in the Big 12 South. Then, tragedy struck. The Cowboys lost running back Kendall Hunter to injury and Dez Bryant to the NCAA. And, though they finished second in the league with a 6-2 record, the Cowboys weren't a factor in games against Oklahoma or Texas, losing each by 27 points. Additionally, losses to Houston in non-conference play and Ole Miss in the Cotton Bowl left the Cowboys short of double-digit wins.
On paper, Oklahoma State squandered its chance. The Cowboys return just two starters on offense and three on defense. That's not a forgiving place to be in the rough-and-tumble Big 12 South, where Oklahoma State could fall from second to fifth or sixth in just one season.
So did the Cowboys reach their ceiling a year ago, and if not, how long will it take them to get back to that position? Those things are often difficult to tell. Offensively, the Cowboys are young. Just one projected starter, and just two players on the two-deep are seniors, meaning the Cowboys will return 20 of their top 22 players on offense next season, barring injuries and attrition. They're a little older on defense, where five starters are seniors, but they should still return the bulk of their players a year from now.
Everything points to 2010 serving as a rebuilding year for the Cowboys. But it could be an important season in terms of finding and developing talent for 2011.
Snyder's efforts in 2009 shouldn't be undersold. He took a team that went 2-2 in the non-conference season, one that lost to Louisiana-Lafayette, and pushed them into the race for the Big 12 North. Along the way, Kansas State hammered Texas A&M, avenged a blowout from the year before against Kansas, gave Oklahoma all it wanted in Norman and finished with a 6-6 record.
It's difficult to argue that Snyder used smoke-and-mirrors as well, since the turnaround was based on a power running game, limiting mistakes and improving defensively, the game plan used by most coaches for the past 100 years.
But it's one thing to do it once. What can Snyder do as an encore? Snyder appears to struggle with recruiting, and he has said he doesn't want to be a long-term fix at the position, meaning he probably has less than five years left. He has upgraded the talent at some spots with a combination of junior college and four-year college transfers, from Daniel Thomas to Chris Harper and Brodrick Smith. But can he improve the long-term product of Kansas State? And will the Wildcats improve on last year's mark now that other teams see them coming?
Any team coached by Snyder is dangerous, and should not be underestimated. But on the surface, there's a lack of experience and talent defensively, and the offense will only go as far as Carson Coffman can take them. That's not a good sign, considering Coffman was replaced last year after struggling mightily.
Don't expect Snyder to reinvent the wheel. He didn't get this far by being complicated when he didn't have to be. Expect Kansas State to play much like it did last year, finding 30 ways per game to get the ball in Thomas's hands, while working to play strong fundamental defense.
Texas Tech: What's the offense's identity?
It's been a popular topic this offseason: just how much Texas Tech Coach Tommy Tuberville plans to have his quarterbacks throw the ball on one season. It's the ultimate coach speak interpretation: Tuberville says that the Red Raiders are built to throw the ball, and that he's going to continue that trend until Texas Tech can build an offense that does what he likes to do. And therein lies the other problem: Tuberville loves to run the ball.
There's an old proverb where a scorpion solicits a ride across a pond from a frog. He tells the frog that he won't do anything sinister, and the frog helps the scorpion safely cross. But upon reaching the banks, the scorpion stabs the frog in the back. When the frog, dying, asks why, the scorpion responds: "Because it's my nature." So which Tuberville is it: the scorpion on one side of the pond saying that he's going to throw the ball, or the scorpion which, after receiving safe passage, follows his nature? And make no mistake, running the ball is in Tuberville's nature.
The answer, of course, is likely somewhere inbetween. Don't expect the Red Raiders to scrap everything and turn into a three-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust team overnight. It wouldn't be practical, and it wouldn't play to the talent that the Red Raiders have assembled. But at the same time, don't expect another "Air Raid", or at least to the same level. The Red Raiders do have a couple nice running backs, and Tuberville will try to put the ball in those players' hands.