The toughest game on this year's schedule for the Missouri Tigers will no doubt be their October 24th homecoming game against the Texas Longhorns. The Horns are ranked no lower than 3rd in most pre-season polls and are one of the early favorites to be playing in the BCS Championship game this season because of their great offense and very underrated defense. Although the Longhorns will be very hard to beat, the Tigers caught a break in the scheduling department because they will play the Horns at home the week after their showdown vs. Oklahoma.
Colt McCoy is undoubtedly one of the top 3 quarterbacks in college football, if not the best. In 2008, the junior quarterback completed a ridiculous 76.7% of his 443 passes for 3,859 yards and 34 touchdowns. Even with the gaudy passing numbers McCoy put up last year, the most important stat for him last season was 8 interceptions, a huge reduction from the 18 he threw in '07. Not only can McCoy pass the ball with the best in college football, he also led the team with 561 rushing yards and added 11 rushing TD's a season ago. McCoy also showed that he could be the leader late in games that his teammates can look to for guidance (see game vs. Oklahoma and Fiesta Bowl). To put it simply, McCoy can do it all and will most likely terrorize the Mizzou secondary.
It's pretty obvious that your rushing game is lacking a true number one guy when your QB leads the team in rushing yards. In order for the Horns to maintain (or even improve) on their 12-1 season, I think the biggest problem has to be finding a solid running back that they can hand the ball to at least 15 times per game and be certain that he will produce. Sure, McCoy can do it all, but some variety in the offense would make this unit much better. The guy that will probably do the most on the ground this year is Vondrell McGee. The junior running back is the most rounded of the bunch, but he hasn't shown that he can break off a big one. If you are looking for the home-run hitter on this team, Foswhitt Whittaker is no doubt your guy. The sophomore back has suffered some major setbacks with injuries in the past couple of years, but he showcases great overall running ability and could break through if McGee doesn't show he can be counted on to get the ball 15-20 times per game. We know what to expect from Cody Johnson, the big bruiser for Texas, who rushed for 12 TD's as a short yardage back last season.
Quan Cosby was one of the top targets for the Horns last season, but he has since graduated, leaving a hole to fill at a starting receiver spot. Jordan Shipley returns as a starter and Colt McCoy's top target after getting a 6th year of eligibility granted because of his 2 missed years due to injury. Players that could break through as the 2nd best target for Texas include sophomore Malcom Williams, junior James Kirkedoll and junior Brandon Collins. Williams showed flashes of greatness against Texas Tech last year, but didn't sustain it throughout the season. Kirkedoll had a solid sophomore season last year and more playing time this year will no doubt cause a spike in his numbers. Collins will be a nice, solid 3rd down target for McCoy this year, something that Cosby was so great at last year. Sophomores Desean Hale and Dan Buckner are explosive, but will probably not see the field much because of the great depth of this group.
4 of the 5 starters this season have starting experience on the Horns, but none of them have really wowed any pro scouts or anything like that. With that said, the star of the line will probably be left tackle Adam Ulatoski who measures in at a mammoth size: 6-8 306. The other starters will most likely be Kyle Hix, Chris Hall, Michael Huey and Charlie Tanner. We probably know what to expect most from these guys, so don't expect this unit to cost the Horns any games, but also don't expect them to carry the team, they will just get the job done.
Last season, a defensive line that included first round pick Brian Orakpo ranked high in many defensive categories and was the foundation of a fairly good defense. Replacing him will be another stud athlete, senior Sergio Kindle, a linebacker turned defensive end/pass rusher extraordinaire. Kindle's job will be to get to the QB and he will no doubt to it well. Other starters on the line will be senior defensive tackle Lamarr Houston, Eddie Jones and Kheeston Randall. Houston has been improving each year of his career and will be the anchor of the defensive line that each team needs to be successful. Jones is a former 5-star recruit that needs to overcome injuries to see the field and use his athleticism to make plays. Randall will probably start at defensive tackle and he will be the tough run stopper for the Horns this year, although some other players could get some playing time as well. Watch out for Alex Okafor, a top recruit last season, to possibly get some playing time this year also.
Roddrick Muckelroy returns to start at outside linebacker a year after leading the team with 106 tackles. The second-team all-Big XII member from last season will look to improve into a star this year and should rack up a ton of tackles again on the weak side this year. Jared Norton will finally get the chance to be the full-time field general at middle linebacker this year after playing well in limited time last year. Keenan Robinson will be the other outside backer when Kindle puts his hand down on the line. This 6-3 sophomore linebacker was a great athlete coming out of high school and he will no doubt shine with more opportunities to make plays.
Only one senior in this unit may sound like a bad thing, but nearly all of the starters had experience last year and even though they were young, they were a pretty good group last season. The safety positions are pretty much locked down by sophomores Earl Thomas and Blake Gideon going into the season. This pair both got considerable playing time last season and should be comfortable in the secondary going into 2009. The lone senior Deon Beasly will be battling to start this year at cornerback along with juniors Chykie Brown, Curtis Brown and sophomore Aaron Williams. All of these guys have decent size and ability, but no one really jumps out at you as a star. I can't really tell you too much else about these guys except that it will be interesting to see who Mack Brown chooses out of the group to start this year.
Overall, this team is just solid all around. It's not a foregone conclusion Texas will be a dynamic offense like they were last year (the loss of both Quan Cosby and Chris Ogbonnaya is going to hurt a lot), but if their young players can step up, they should be a top 10 offense again. The defense will be very good again, featuring the beast that is Sergio Kindle. They should be one of the 2 favorites to win the Big XII and should be one of the top contenders for a national title if they can work their way through the tough Big XII South. I think the only way the Tigers could win this game would be if they got a little bit lucky while playing a great game behind a very supportive crowd. Crazier things have happened, though. I know I will be screaming my head off no matter what!
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