Missouri Tigers

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Derek Dooley on returning to the SEC: I’m a glutton for punishment

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After losing Josh Heupel as an offensive coordinator to be the head coach at UCF, Missouri head coach Barry Odom needed to find a replacement. He ended up bringing former Tennessee head coach and Dallas Cowboys assistant coach Derek Dooley into the Missouri program to fill the void. For Dooley, a chance to return to the college game and in the SEC is one he embraced, and he seems to be looking forward to putting his past at Tennessee behind him as he hopes to help keep Missouri moving forward.

“Getting back into the crosshairs is a little bit more my personality,” Dooley said Friday at his first press conference with Missouri media, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “It’s easy to stay removed from the firing line. You guys have the ammo and you’re firing away. That’s OK. That’s your job. But there’s a lot of personalities (in coaching) that don’t like that. And that’s OK. They’re great coaches. But I guess that’s not mine. I’m a glutton for punishment.”

As far as Odom is concerned, he seems optimistic about hiring an offensive coordinator with a bit of a chip on his shoulder.

“He’s got something to prove,” Odom said. Odom also said he has something to prove. After a rough start to the 2017 season, Odom made a passionate claim he was the right guy to coach the Tigers. Sure enough, Missouri turned things around in a big way to reach a bowl game. The season ended with a loss to Texas in the bowl game, but that gives Odom a sense of unfinished business, a mantra his entire program can buy into this offseason.

Dooley certainly does. Back in the same division as Tenessee, Dooley hopes his work as offensive coordinator at Mizzou will erase the image he had when he went 15-21 as head coach of the Vols. Dooley will have a talented offense to work with next fall, which is led by the return of the SEC’s leading passer from last season, Drew Lock.

SEC-leading QB Drew Lock will return to Missouri in 2018

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With so many players choosing to head off to the NFL this spring, Missouri is happy to announce they will be getting one more year out of quarterback Drew Lock. Missouri announced Lock has decided to return for the 2018 season after carefully weighing his decisions regarding a future in the NFL.

“I’m very excited to be coming back for my senior year, and I’m really optimistic about what we can do as a team next season,” Lock said in a statement released by Missouri. “There were a lot of factors that went into this decision, but the main ones include: a feeling of responsibility and loyalty to my coaches and teammates at Mizzou – we have goals to achieve together; having the chance to play for a new coach in [new offensive coordinator Derek Dooley], and his system that will continue to add to my development; and of course, getting my degree.”

“I’m proud of Drew and his family for how they approached this decision and how they handled themselves during the process,” Missouri head coach Barry Odom said in a released statement. “We were very thorough in gathering all the information possible to assist. Drew obviously has a great skill set that will continue to be developed at Mizzou. His leadership skills and being a great teammate are two qualities that I admire. I look forward to building our team this spring and am excited that Drew will be part of that.

Lock’s return is a significant one for the Tigers going into the 2018 season. Lock led the SEC with 304.9 passing yards per game with 44 touchdowns to just 13 interceptions. Even in a conference that will have some emerging star power at the quarterback position, Lock should continue to be an asset to the Missouri offense as the Tigers continue to try keeping the ball moving with more confidence next fall.

Missouri’s offense will return nine starters from one of the more dynamic offensive units the SEC had to offer. With seven more starters coming back on defense, Missouri hopes to get off to a better start to the season and have a more competitive chance to make some noise in the SEC. Missouri will get to host Georgia and Memphis (non-conference) but the road slate could be difficult. The Tigers travel to Alabama and will have to play division games on the road against Florida and Tennessee, each with new head coaches in 2018.

A Look Ahead: CFT’s Way-Too-Early 2018 Heisman Trophy Contenders

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We don’t really know much when it comes to the chase for the 2018 Heisman Trophy, but we do know with utter and absolute certainty that Archie Griffin‘s claim as the only back-to-back winner will hold true for yet another year.

That’s because fifth-year senior Baker Mayfield of Oklahoma claimed the 2017 version of the stiff-armed trophy and is off to the NFL.  As a matter of fact, of the Top 10 vote-getters in this year’s voting, seven of them are headed to the show — Mayfield, San Diego State running back Rashaad Penny (5th in voting) and Oklahoma State quarterback Mason Rudolph (7th) because of expired eligibility, with Louisville quarterback and 2016 winner Lamar Jackson (3rd), Penn State running back Saquon Barkley (4th), Auburn running back Kerryon Johnson (9th) and Georgia linebacker Roquan Smith (10th) opting for early entry into the draft.  And an eighth, junior Stanford running back Bryce Love (runner-up to Mayfield), is widely expected to declare for the NFL draft ahead of the Jan. 15 deadline.

That leaves just two of the Top 10 Heisman finishers who will return for the 2018 season — UCF quarterback McKenzie Milton (8th) and Wisconsin running back Jonathan Taylor (6th).

That would seem to bode well for Milton as, since 1986, 21 Heisman winners played quarterback.  Since 2000, it’s 15 of 18 at the position.  Working against Milton?  The fact that there hasn’t been a winner from a non-Power Five program since BYU quarterback Ty Detmer won the Heisman in 1990.

With that as a backdrop, here’s a look at a handful of players who should be contenders for the 2018 version of the trophy, listed in order from the favorite on down — we had Mayfield No. 2, behind USC quarterback Sam Darnold, last year at this time.  And Jackson No. 4.  Just saying, is all.

(Writer’s note: class designation is based on what the player will be for the 2018 season.)

(Writer’s note, the sequel: If Love doesn’t declare, put him at the very top of the list of favorites.)

J.K. Dobbins, OHIO STATE, RUNNING BACK, SOPHOMORE
Going against Dobbins is, one, he doesn’t play quarterback and, two, true sophomores winning the Heisman are a relative rarity — only Lamar Jackson (2016), Mark Ingram (2009) and Tim Tebow (2007) have done it.  Outweighing those disadvantages is the fact that, with J.T. Barrett gone, the Buckeyes will lean even more heavily on a player who ran for 1,403 yards (7.2 ypc) as a true freshman as they break in a new starter under center.  And, the fact that the Buckeyes will take part in a handful of high-profile games, starting with TCU in Arlington Week 3, and should be in the thick of the College Football Playoff hunt throughout won’t hurt the Texas native either.

KHALIL TATE, ARIZONA, QUARTERBACK, JUNIOR
The dual-threat extraordinaire ran for 1,411 yards, passed for another 1,591 and accounted for 26 touchdowns (14 passing, 12 rushing) — and he wasn’t named the starter until the first week of October.  He set the single-game FBS record for a quarterback with 327 yards rushing vs. Colorado, and ran for 200-plus yards on two other occasions.  While the abrupt firing of Rich Rodriguez would give some pause as to Tate’s future, if Kevin Sumlin, he of Johnny Football Heisman fame, is hired as the replacement, all bets are off and Tate will be in the thick of the stiff-armed discussion throughout the season — provided voters on the East Coast can stay up to witness his greatness, that is.

JONATHAN TAYLOR, WISCONSIN, RUNNING BACK, SOPHOMORE
Breaking the great Adrian Peterson‘s all-time FBS freshman rushing record and finishing sixth in the Heisman voting your first year out of the box earns you a lofty spot on any way-too-early list of this type; hell, it arguably earns you the top spot.  As long as Bryce Love doesn’t return to Stanford, Taylor will be the highest-returning vote-getter in 2018.  Add that to the Badgers being a run-first, run-in-the-middle, run-last offense, and Taylor being the bell-cow of that offense, expect the rising sophomore to be a part of the Heisman talk throughout.

NICK BOSA, OHIO STATE, DEFENSIVE END, JUNIOR
Surprise!  Yes, this is likely way, way too high for any defensive player, but there is a confluence of events that could play out that would at least allow Bosa to earn a mid-December trip to the Big Apple.  One, he already had and still has name recognition thanks in part to big brother Joey Bosa, an OSU All-American taken third overall in the 2016 NFL draft, and is decidedly on the media’s radar.  Two, he’s highly disruptive and productive in his own right — 16 tackles for loss, 8½ sacks s a true sophomore this past season.  Three, the Buckeyes are one of the highest-profile programs in the country.  If any defense-only player is to finally claim the Heisman, Bosa could have the best shot of anyone given his situation — especially if he has big games in marquee matchups.

KELLY BRYANT, CLEMSON, QUARTERBACK, SENIOR
Fun fact: in the 83-year history of the Heisman Trophy, no player from Clemson has ever taken home the award.  If Deshaun Watson, the most decorated Tiger of all, couldn’t win one, what chance does Bryant have to be the first?  That’s a damn good question, one that doesn’t have a ready answer.  In his first year as a starter, Bryant put up solid numbers, passing for just over 2,800 yards and rushing for another 665.  He added 24 total touchdowns for good measure — 13 passing, 11 rushing.  Maybe because he was still playing in Watson’s immense shadow, there was just never that “wow!” moment, even in a season that ended with another playoff appearance.  Perhaps another year removed from Watson will allow Bryant to blossom in what is his last year at this level.

MCKENZIE MILTON, UCF, QUARTERBACK, JUNIOR
Subject A: 296.9 yards per game passing, 51.3 yards per game rushing, 3.9 touchdowns per game
Subject B: 310.5 yards per game passing, 47.2 yards per game rushing, 3.5 touchdowns per game

Subject B is Milton in 13 games this past season.  Subject A is Oregon’s Marcus Mariota in 15 games, along with the stats he put up in winning the 2014 Heisman Trophy.  And Milton’s team won the national championship while Mariota’s squad fell short.  So there’s that, too.

WILL GRIER, WEST VIRGINIA, QUARTERBACK, FIFTH-YEAR SENIOR
With Baker Mayfield and Mason Rudolph off to the NFL, Grier is the top returning quarterback in the pass-happy Big 12.  Despite missing nearly three full games because of injury, and in his first full season as the Mountaineers starter, Grier’s 3,490 yards passing were fourth in the conference and 20th nationally; in passing yards per game, he was eighth (317.3).  His 34 passing touchdowns were eighth in the country as well, again, despite missing nearly a quarter of the season.  With his top target in the passing game returning as well, Grier is poised to put up big numbers yet again for Dana Holgorsen and WVU

JARRETT STIDHAM, AUBURN, QUARTERBACK, REDSHIRT JUNIOR
To the surprise of almost no one, Stidham announced last week that he’s pushing off the NFL draft and would be returning to The Plains for at least one more season.  Like Grier in his first year as the starter at the school to which he transferred, Stidham put up solid numbers — 3,158 yards, 18 touchdowns, six interceptions and completed nearly 66 percent of his passes in finishing 20th nationally in efficiency rankings.  With two of the Tigers’ most productive running backs the past two seasons leaving early for the draft, Stidham should see his numbers rise as he shoulders more of the offensive load.  As is the case with the vast majority of the players listed, though, how well his team performs will very likely determine how deep into the Heisman discussion Stidham gets.

NICK FITZGERALD, MISSISSIPPI STATE, QUARTERBACK, FIFTH-YEAR SENIOR
This is my darkhorse(ish) Heisman selection.  Fitzgerald is a lot like Hurts, although he will have an offensive system in which he’ll be able to do more through the air now that new head coach Joe Moorehead, who turned Trace McSorley into a borderline Heisman threat at Penn State, is in Starkville.  Prior to injuring his leg in the Egg Bowl, Fitzgerald was well on his way to back-to-back 1,000-yard rushing seasons.  With Moorehead around, Fitzgerald is a near-lock to improve on the 4,205 yards passing and 36 touchdowns he’s put up the past two seasons as the Bulldogs’ starter under center.

JUST MISSED THE CUT
Houston DT Ed Oliver: There’s one defensive player listed above, which is already one too many based on Heisman precedent.
Alabama QB Tua Tagovailoa — A late entrant, the strong-armed Hawaiin could challenge the notion that a Nick Saban-coached QB can’t win the Heisman.
Missouri QB Drew Lock: The Tigers’ offensive coordinator was replaced by Derek Dooley.  Enough said.
Penn State QB Trace McSorley: Saquon Barkley‘s presence in the backfield will be McSorely missed by the entire Nittany Lions offense.
Georgia QB Jake Fromm: With the Bulldogs’ two top running backs leaving, I almost pulled the trigger on Jake from State Fromm.
Oregon QB Justin Hebert: If Willie Taggart would’ve stayed instead of bolting for Florida State, he likely would’ve nudged his way in.
Florida State RB Cam Akers: The fact that Taggart is now at FSU almost led me to opt for the rising sophomore as the darkhorse pick.
Clemson RB Travis Etienne: He averaged 7.2 ypc as a true freshman on a playoff team, but there was just no room at the Heisman Inn.
West Virginia WR David Sills: The former quarterback tied for the FBS lead with 18 touchdown receptions and gets Will Grier back.
NC State QB Ryan Finley: Out of all of the ones that just missed the cut, I have a sneaking suspicion this one I might regret the most.

Derek Dooley leaves Dallas Cowboys to take OC job at Mizzou

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Just when you thought it was over, SEC… he’s baaa-aaack!!!

In a move that came completely out of left field from a stadium on a different continent, Missouri announced Friday evening that Derek Dooley has been hired as the Tigers’ new offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach. And, if you are wondering, yes, that’s the same Dooley who replaced Lane Kiffin on Rocky Top.

This time around Dooley replaces Josh Heupel, who left last month to take the head-coaching job at UCF.

“I’m excited for our football program, Derek brings tremendous energy, knowledge and experience to our staff,” said Mizzou head coach Barry Odom in a statement. “He will do a great job of mentoring our student-athletes in all areas of their lives, and I know he will add great benefit and loyalty to our staff room with his experiences he’s gained over his career. His football knowledge and offensive beliefs are in line with what will make Mizzou very successful. We have a great foundation to build on and along with the rest of the offensive staff we will put our kids in position to be their very best. I’m very happy to welcome the Dooley family to our organization!”

Dooley has spent the last five seasons as the wide receivers coach of the Dallas Cowboys. That’s the only coaching job he’s held since his three-year run as the head coach at Tennessee came to an end.

In those three forgettable-yet-wholly-unforgettable seasons, the Vols went 15-21. Most notably, that record included a 4-19 mark in SEC play.  Including his three years at Louisiana Tech, Dooley holds a 32-41 career record as a head coach.

Now at Mizzou, Dooley will be an offensive coordinator for the first time in a coaching career that goes back two decades-plus; he’ll coach quarterbacks for the first time as well. He previously served as a tight ends coach and running backs coach at LSU, and he was in charge of receivers at SMU as well.

“I am excited to be a Mizzou Tiger and look forward to helping Coach Odom carry out his vision for the program. I am grateful for this opportunity, and am ready to get to Columbia and go to work,” said Dooley.

Longhorns get contributions all over to top old Big 12 rival Missouri in the Texas Bowl

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Michael Dickson may not be in the same conversation as Vince Young when it comes to heroic performances in the annals of Texas football but he certainly was — no joke — operating at the same level on Wednesday night. The NFL-bound punter and Ray Guy Award winner put on a special teams masterclass to help the Longhorns (7-6) beat old Big 12 rival Missouri (7-6) in the Texas Bowl 33-16 and cap off the first season of the Tom Herman era with a victory.

Hard as it is to believe, Dickson was a well deserved MVP even if the other two phases of the game also played a big role in delivering Texas their first winning season since 2013. He punted 11 times in the game for nearly 500 yards but most impressively nailed 10 of those punts inside the Missouri 20 yard line.

That backed the Tigers up on a consistent basis and played a huge role in the team’s average starting field position being their own 16 yard line.

Of course it didn’t help that they couldn’t get much going offensively as quarterback Drew Lock came back down to Earth after a hot second half of the season and threw for only 269 yards, a touchdown and an interception. Some of his performance could be attributed to offensive coordinator Josh Heupel departing early in bowl preparations to take the UCF job but it was still a pretty rough outing after the team entered the game as one of the most high-powered attacks in the SEC.

The Longhorns offense wasn’t a world-beater themselves but they had their moments after an inconsistent 2017 campaign. Freshman Sam Ehllinger had a nice game to send him into the offseason with momentum by going 11-of-15 for 112 yards in the air with a touchdown and 17 yards rushing. Fellow signal-caller Shane Buechele was also part of the rotation behind center and threw a touchdown to kick off scoring in the first quarter.

Freshman tailback Daniel Young was the star of the show however and took full advantage of transfers, injuries and suspensions at the position to post a breakout performance. He led the team with 48 yards rushing and led the Horns in receiving as well, hauling in three passes for 64 yards and a wide-open touchdown.

Not to be out done, Todd Orlando’s defense also showed why they were one of the better units in the country this season and proved to be more than capable of replacing a few stars with star defensive back DeShon Elliott off to the NFL and linebacker Malik Jefferson unable to play due to injury. Anthony Wheeler scored Texas’ eighth non-offensive touchdown of the year (most in the FBS) when he recovered a fumble and rumbled 38 yards to the house to help break things open in the second quarter. Corner Davante Davis didn’t wind up in the end zone but may have been more productive with six tackles, a forced fumble and an interception.

While the loss isn’t what Missouri was looking for against their old conference rival, it was still a heck of a turnaround for the Tigers to even play in the game after the start they had, much less to capture seven wins. A lot of eyes will be on Barry Odom over the next few weeks though as he has some big decisions ahead when it comes to his coaching staff and particularly with a pair of new coordinators.

As far as the Longhorns go it was a nice way to close out the beginning of the Herman era on the 40 Acres even if the year overall is a bit of a disappointment given the expectations in Austin. A bowl victory, a winning season, a top three recruiting class and the bulk of the team returning for 2018 is a nice way to transition into Year 2 however and could just what Texas needs to get back on track after a few years in the college football desert.