Top 10 players of the season: No. 5

As we get closer on our list, the player in fifth is one that is no surpise. This player's been a leader on the defense for years, and even though he didn't have quite the season he had in 2002, he was still a big part of the defense's improvement this season.

Following a line of impact linebackers at Missouri, James Kinney was one of the experienced Tigers expected to lead the young defense. He didn't have quite the same year as he had in 2002, but even with missing most of the Kansas State game, Kinney led the team in tackles and was a sound presence in the middle of the defense.

His 141 tackles, including six tackles for loss, were enough to earn him a spot on the media's All-Big 12 second team and the coaches' third team. It was also the fifth-highest tackle total in Missouri history.

But Kinney's biggest impact this season won't be seen in any of his statistics. In the Tigers' landmark win against Nebraska, Kinney gave an emotional speech to his team before the fourth quarter with the Cornhuskers ahead 24-14. Nebraska wouldn't score again.

Kinney also had a great game against Nebraska. He had 12 tackles, three for loss, and then had his only sack, his only two forced fumbles and his only fumble recovery of the season. Against Texas Tech, he had an interception he returned for 21 yards to set up a Missouri field goal, and he had nine tackles.

His presence was clearly missed in the crucial loss to Kansas State, with Darren Sproles having almost truck lanes through the middle all night. But that presence will be back for one more year, and he will need only 99 tackles to pass DeMontie Cross as Missouri's all-time tackles leader, and by doing that he would also pass former teammates Sean Doyle and Jamonte Robinson.

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