Last week, PowerMizzou.com began our in-depth analysis of the 2010 Missouri schedule. Each day, we have examined a different position and ranked the Tiger opponents from one to 12. This week, we continue our look at the defenses by examining the opposing linebacking corps.
Oklahoma: With Ryan Reynolds and Keegan Clayton gone, the Sooners have just one returning starter at linebacker, but he's a good one. Junior Travis Lewis is one of the Big 12's best, leading the Sooners with more than eight tackles per game. Ronnell Lewis and Austin Box are promising youngsters and Tom Wort will get a chance to see action coming off a knee injury that short circuited his freshman season before it began.
"I feel great about them overall as a group and especially with the group that's coming in as well. They're all guys that are physical and they're fast and they can all think," said defensive coordinator Brent Venables. "I love the guys and it will all work out. I really feel now, more than we have in a while, that there's more than three or four guys."
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Degree of Difficulty (1-12): 12
Texas A&M: With Von Miller's move to linebacker, the Aggies add one of the top playmakers in the conference to this position. In going to a 3-4, Miller will be the star of the defense in College Station. The opposite of Nebraska, the Aggies are adding a linebacker to the starting lineup and will need more depth. Garrick Williams started last season and played well at times. Kyle Mangan, Jonathan Stewart and Michael Hodges are in the mix for the other starting spots.
Degree of Difficulty (1-12): 11
Nebraska: Phillip Dillard is gone, but the rest of the two-deep returns. WillCompton enters his second season as a starter and Sean Fisher and Eric Martin have experience. The Huskers are going to a two-linebacker look as their base defense, so less depth may be necessary. Those three should comprise the starting group. Linebacker is the question on the Nebraska defense, but it's still in decent shape.
Degree of Difficulty (1-12): 10
Texas Tech: Brian Duncan had a productive season inside last year, leading the Red Raiders with 88 tackles and breaking up five passes. He moves outside this season with Bront Bird switching to the middle. Sam Fehoko, Aundrey Barr and Daniel Cobb will be in the mix as well for a group without a lot established beyond Duncan.
Degree of Difficulty (1-12): 9
Illinois: The Illini return starters Nate Bussey, Ian Thomas and Evan Frierson from a season ago. The problem is that Illinois ranked last in the Big Ten in total defense and points allowed, giving up more than 400 yards and 30 points a game. The simple fact is, Illinois has to count on the returning players simply being much better than they were a season ago.
Degree of Difficulty (1-12): 8
Kansas: The Jayhawks have had a lot of good players at this position in recent memory, but linebacker is a major question for 2010. Justin Springer battled injury all last year, but is listed as the starter at middle linebacker ahead of Drew Dudley, the leading returning tackler in the group. Huldon Tharp and Steven Johnson are the post-spring starters on the outside. The Jayhawks were 76th in total defense and 85th in scoring defense a season ago and the linebacking corps may be the weak link this season.
Degree of Difficulty (1-12): 7
Colorado: The Buffs lose a lot in Jeff Smart, Marcus Burton and Shaun Mohler. B.J. Beatty is the only truly experienced linebacker. Michael Sipili started three games last season and brings the most in terms of gameday experience. Juco signee Evan Harrigton could battle for significant time on a Buff defense that ranked 57th in the country a season ago.
Degree of Difficulty (1-12): 6
Iowa State: Jesse Smith and Fred Garrin were two of the team's top three tacklers last season. With that pair gone, sophomores A.J. Klein and Jake Knott join junior Matt Tau'fo'ou atop the post-spring depth chart. A ton of question marks in the middle of the Cyclone defense.
Degree of Difficulty (1-12): 5
Miami, OH: Redshirt junior Jerrell Wedge led Miami with 114 tackles last season, including 18.5 for a loss. Sophomore Evan Harris was fifth on the team with 61 stops. Linebacker should be a strength for the Redhawks.
Degree of Difficulty (1-12): 4
Kansas State: The Wildcats lose both of last year's starters at linebacker in John Houlik and Ulla Pomele. Alex Hrebec had a solid season as a reserve last year, making 32 tackles, including four for a loss. Kevin Rohleder chipped in 29 tackles. That pair should be the starters in 2010 for Bill Snyder. Jarell Childs moved from running back to linebacker and could have an impact.
Degree of Difficulty (1-12): 3
San Diego State: Senior Marcus Yarbrough holds down the middle in the Aztecs' three-linebacker lineup. He is flanked by juniors Logan Ketchum and Miles Burris. San Diego State struggled defensively last year, ranking 50th or worse in every defensive category nationally.
Degree of Difficulty (1-12): 2
McNeese State: Sophomore Hayden Dobbs was the Cowboys' fifth leading tackler last season and leads the linebacking corps, which lost Matt Kreamer and Deron Minor.
Degree of Difficulty (1-12): 1