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March 9, 2010

Mizzou hopes to challenge for Big 12 North

Hey, anyone remember Missouri? In Columbia, they're beginning to wonder.

A team coming off an eight-win season and counting a quarterback and a defensive force among 17 returning starters usually is trumpeted as a championship contender. Yet, the trumpets have been strangely silent where the Tigers are concerned. Maybe that's because too many remember the fourth-quarter collapse against Nebraska, the home loss to Baylor and the Texas Bowl embarrassment against Navy.

The Tigers have issues to address. But they also have some serious weapons in quarterback Blaine Gabbert, who passed for more than 3,500 yards in his first season as a starter, and defensive end Aldon Smith, a freshman All-American last season.

Here's a look at Mizzou as it prepares to open spring drills.

MISSOURI AT-A-GLANCE
Blaine Gabbert passed for 3,593 yards and 24 TDs last season as a first-year starter.
THE BASICS
Coach: Gary Pinkel
Last season: 8-5 overall, 4-4 in the Big 12. Lost to Navy 35-13 in the Texas Bowl.
Spring dates: March 9-April 17
RETURNING STARTERS
(minimum of six starts)
Offense (9): C Tim Barnes, T Elvis Fisher, QB Blaine Gabbert, T Dan Hoch, WR Jerrell Jackson, TE Andrew Jones, WR Wes Kemp, TB Derrick Washington, G Austin Wuebbels.
Defense (8): LB Will Ebner, LB Andrew Gachkar, CB Carl Gettis, SS Jarrell Harrison, T Dominique Hamilton, CB Kevin Rutland, FS Jasper Simmons, E Aldon Smith.
Special teams (1): K Grant Ressel.
POSITIONS OF STRENGTH

It begins at quarterback with junior Blaine Gabbert, who passed for 3,593 yards and 24 touchdowns last season as a first-year starter. The Tigers don't run a bunch, but are solid at running back with Derrick Washington. He has rushed for at least 850 yards in each of the past two seasons despite getting fewer than 200 carries both seasons. Gabbert and Washington also should continue to benefit from a line that returns four starters.

HELP IS NEEDED

Junior DT Dominique Hamilton had a solid year in '09, but NT Jaron Baston is gone and there wasn't much production from others on the interior defensive line. The next-most productive player there managed only 13 tackles and one start. The Tigers will be counting on unproven, inexperienced players to bolster the line or risk being vulnerable against the run. The Tigers need a receiver to follow in the fleet footsteps of Jeremy Maclin and Danario Alexander as a big-play threat. Look for Jerrell Jackson to emerge in that role this spring.

THREE GUYS TO WATCH

CB Kip Edwards: He showed a lot of ability as a redshirt freshman last season, when he had 18 tackles, an interception and two pass breakups as a reserve. He'll make a legitimate challenge for a starting role this spring.

RB Kendial Lawrence: A former Parade All-America performer in high school, Lawrence rushed for 219 yards in a limited role as a freshman last season. This spring, he can make a case for being used more often as a sophomore.

WR Rolandis Woodland: Even though Woodland managed just five catches for 26 yards as a redshirt freshman last season, he could emerge as a big-play threat for the Tigers. He has good size, speed and explosiveness. He also has a great opportunity now that Danario Alexander and Jared Perry -- last year's top receivers -- have completed their eligibility.

THE PRESSURE IS ON

DT Terrell Resonno: In 2008, he served as a backup to Ziggy Hood and registered 13 tackles. But he disappointed last season as a sophomore, managing only 13 tackles and losing his starting job after the season-opener. Resonno needs a strong showing this spring. He is in danger of getting passed on the depth chart by some of the younger interior linemen.

THE BUZZ

The Tigers are eager to get going this spring, and not just to start working to gain redemption for the Texas Bowl showing. Missouri largely has been absent from the early preseason top 25s, which rankles Tigers fans. A wealth of starters are returning - most notably Gabbert, who played well as a sophomore. If the Tigers can bolster the interior defensive line and a big-play threat emerges at receiver this spring, Missouri could challenge Nebraska for Big 12 North supremacy this fall.

Olin Buchanan is the senior college football writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at olin@rivals.com.


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