The Fog of '09 - North Offenses

Two years ago, it was pretty easy to see what was in store for the Big 12 in football.  Colt McCoy was having a monster RSFr season.  Chase Daniel and Graham Harrell were having monster sophomore seasons.  Stephen McGee and Bobby Reid were young and looked like gamers.  Josh Freeman was a true freshman starter, and while he looked it from time to time, his upside was huge.  Even Bret Meyer and Blake "Blizzle Szyzzle" Szymanski had their moments.

Beyond that, the offensive lines (especially Oklahoma's) were young, as were the RBs and WRs.  Oh yeah, and just about every proven defensive end had run out of eligibility.  While there was still defensive talent throughout the conference, it was clear that the next couple of years were going to see some unprecedented offensive continuity and success in the Big 12.

Sure enough, that's what happened.  And it was an even bigger surge than anybody expected.  Todd Reesing and Zac Robinson outshone their promising counterparts (Dylan Meier and Reid) and thrived.  Jeremy Maclin and Michael Crabtree were All-Americans as redshirt freshmen.  Add to that the fact that half the league's starters are of the "3-year" variety, and this run of offense has just been ridiculous.  Josh Freeman is still talked about as a potential first rounder in the 2009 (or 2010) draft, and he's at best the #8 QB in the conference.

But it all changes in 2009.  Daniel and Harrell?  Gone.  Crabtree and Maclin?  Almost certainly gone.  McCoy, Bradford, Freeman?  Possibly gone.  Chase Coffman, Joe Ganz, Marlon Lucky, Nate Swift, Chris Ogbonnaya, Quan Cosby, Jordan Shipley, Shannon Woods and Eric Morris?  Gone.  Even the J-Train, Jorvorskie Lane, has finally exhausted his eligibility.  So many guys who have become household names in the midwest are leaving.

And that says nothing about William Moore, Brian Orakpo, all of KU's linebackers, Nic Harris, and the potential defensive exodus.  Or even Dave Christensen, Matt Eberflus, Brent Venables, Kevin Wilson, and the potential assistant coaching exodus.

The watchword for '08 was "offensive explosion."  For '09?  "New"  Through the clarity of 2007 and 2008 lies the fog of 2009.  We don't yet know all who will return and who will not, but one thing's for certain: everything changes in 2009.

It's still pretty hard to grasp this yet, as we don't know who will be leaving for the draft, but let's take a super-duper early look at who might be good (or not so good) in 2009.  We'll start with the North Division.  To do this, I'm not going to jump into BTBS numbers.  There will certainly be a time and place for that.  Today, we'll simply go unit-by-unit and make some early rankings.  And I'm not even going to think about redshirts or incoming recruits.  Making predictions about how newcomers are going to fit in and/or thrive can drive you crazy.  Plus, you'll probably be wrong.  Remember how Darrell Scott and Jocques Crawford were supposed to be total studs the moment they walked in the door at CU and KU?

In other words, the projections after the jump are strictly from this year's depth chart.

Quarterbacks

  1. Kansas (Todd Reesing)
  2. Kansas State (Josh Freeman--for now)
  3. Iowa State (Austen Arnaud)
  4. Missouri (Blaine Gabbert)
  5. Nebraska (Patrick Witt/Zac Lee)
  6. Colorado (Cody Hawkins/Tyler Hansen)

I probably shouldn't stick CU's duo below two relative newcomers at MU and NU, but I just can't help it.  And if Josh Freeman is gone and Carson Coffman is next year's starter at KSU, pencil KSU into the #4 or #5 spot.  And while either Gabbert or Witt/Lee (Pac Litt?) can or will overtake Arnaud by the end of the season, I couldn't rank two returning starters below QBs who've never taken a meaningful snap.

Running Backs

  1. Missouri (Derrick Washington, De'Vion Moore)
  2. Nebraska (Roy Helu Jr., Quentin Castille)
  3. Kansas (Jake Sharp, Jocques Crawford)
  4. Colorado (Rodney Stewart, Darrell Scott)
  5. Iowa State (Alexander Robinson)
  6. Kansas State (Lamark Brown, Logan Dold)

Of all the departures for '09, the running back position actually looks not only solid, but strong.  Washington, Helu and Sharp are all relatively proven at this point, and at any moment Stewart and Scott could emerge in a big way.  Even Alexander Robinson and Lamark Brown have had their moments this year.  This is something to watch for '09--while offenses may not be as high-flying, they still might be pretty darn effective thanks to the ground games.

Wide Receivers/Tight Ends

  1. Kansas (Dezmon Briscoe, Kerry Meier, Johnathan Wilson)
  2. Missouri (Jared Perry, Danario Alexander, Andrew Jones)
  3. Kansas State (Brandon Banks, Deon Murphy, Aubrey Quarles)
  4. Nebraska (Niles Paul, Menelik Holt, Mike McNeill)
  5. Colorado (Josh Smith, Scotty McKnight, Riar Geer)
  6. Iowa State (Houston Jones, Sedrick Johnson, Derrick Catlett)

Kansas is clearly #1 here, but after that, #2-#5 is something of a crapshoot.  I feel like a homer for putting Mizzou at #2, but while they won't have the speed of KSU's unit, they'll still have the speed-size mix that few other teams do.  And naturally, I'm assuming Jeremy Maclin is gone.  Mizzou is clearly #1 if Maclin returns, but I very much do not see that happening.  Paul and Holt could make NU's unit pretty effective, but they haven't gone all the way in proving that just yet.

Offensive Lines

  1. Missouri (OG Kurtis Gregory, C Tim Barnes, OT Elvis Fisher)
  2. Nebraska (C Jacob Hickman, OG Keith Williams, OT Jaivorio Burkes)
  3. Colorado (OT Nate Solder, OT Ryan Miller, OG Devin Head)
  4. Kansas State (OG Brock Unruh, OT Edward Prince, OT Nick Stringer)
  5. Kansas (OT Jeremiah Hatch, OT Jeff Spikes)
  6. Iowa State (OG Reggie Stephens, OT Ben Lamaak, C Alex Alvarez)

Missouri will have by far the highest-upside offensive line in the North next year.  That can only help when a) protecting a young QB and b) clearing the way for the North's #1 RB.  If Mizzou is to win the North despite having to replace Chase Daniel and Jeremy Maclin, it's Washington and the nice O-line who will get it done.

After Mizzou, NU's probably got the most upside in this unit.  Colorado's fought through youth and injuries this year and could emerge next year with a solid O-line because of the struggles.  After that...no idea.  KSU returns quite a bit from an iffy-at-best O-line, and KU loses both starting guards and center.  Not good.  And while I like Reggie Stephens at ISU, he's about all ISU has.

So, keeping this as unscientific as possible, if we assign 6 points for every #1 ranking, 5 for every #2, et cetera, how do the North offenses add up?

North Offenses, 2009

  1. Missouri (20 points)
  2. Kansas (18 points)
  3. Nebraska (15 points)
  4. Kansas State (13 points)
  5. Colorado (10 points)
  6. Iowa State (8 points)

If Josh Freeman goes pro

  1. Missouri (21)
  2. Kansas (18)
  3. Nebraska (16)
  4. Kansas State (10)
  5. Colorado (10)
  6. Iowa State (9)

If Jeremy Maclin DOESN'T go pro

  1. Missouri (21)
  2. Kansas (17)
  3. Nebraska (15)
  4. Kansas State (13)
  5. Colorado (10)
  6. Iowa State (8)

I'm obviously not going to take this rather arbitrary ranking system too seriously and say "See?  This proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that Missouri will have the best offense in the North next year!" or anything like that.  This does show, though, that each team will have defined strengths and weaknesses (Mizzou = good running, iffy passing; Kansas = good passing, iffy blocking, KSU = good passing, no running, CU = possibly good running, no passing), which means unit-to-unit matchups and home-road scheduling will matter more next year than it has in the last couple of years. 

And speaking of those matchups, tomorrow we'll look at North defenses.

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