The state of Missouri has become much more well known for producing college stars and NFL players that its neighbor Kansas over the last decade. However, over the last few years Kansas has held its own, especially with five-star brothers Arthur Brown and Bryce Brown ranking amongst the nation's top 25 players in 2008 and 2009 respectively, with Bryce checking in as the No. 1 player in the nation. But in 2011, Missouri running back Darrian Miller is the highest-ranked player from either state. Would Miller lead Missouri to a win over quarterback Bubba Starling and Kansas in a head-to-head matchup?
Missouri offense vs. Kansas defense
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The strength of the Missouri team is clearly on offense with a lightning and thunder combination of Miller, a 5-foot-10, 181-pounder from Blue Springs, and Jefferson City big back Kody Walker providing the power. Walker would not only be a strong lead back for Missouri but he could gain tough yardage and wear down the Kansas defense. Miller is an electrifying runner who rushed for nearly 3,000 yards and 37 scores as a junior.
Miller and Walker would run behind an offensive line led by center Andrew Ness from St. Louis Christian Brothers College High and guard Montae Jones, a transplant from Florida. Both are excellent run blockers and would certainly open some holes. But it's not just the running game that can be successful for Missouri. Lee's Summit quarterback Corbin Berkstresser has some big and fast targets to throw to when Missouri needs to go to the air.
Big tight end Dan Tapko from Kansas City Rockhurst is a nice target who blocks like a sixth lineman and will be a bailout option for Berkstresser while wideouts Jordan Nubine from Blue Springs and Brandon Hannah from St. Louis Chaminade are both huge targets while Columbia Hickman speedster Wesley Leftwich can stretch the field.
Overall it's a very balanced offense for the Missouri team that will give the Kansas defense fits. Kansas is led by a strong defensive line anchored by defensive tackle Jordan Phillips from Towanda Circle and defensive ends Shane Ray from Shawnee Mission Bishop Miege and Drew Goodger from Shawnee Mission Northwest. This trio has very good size, the ability to rush the passer and will be stout against the run so they can have some success against a balanced Missouri offense. However, there isn't enough depth behind them to keep things in check.
Hutchinson linebacker Ben Heeney is a winner and very active, but at 6 feet 1 and 195 pounds, he lacks great size and there is little quickness otherwise at the position. Olathe North athlete Victor Simmons is a great athlete but he lacks experience at safety and Wichita Trinity Academy cornerback Morgan Burns has good size and great speed, but won't be challenged much as Missouri will focus on the opposite side of the field. The balance of the Missouri offense is too much for a defense that is strong up front but lacks great depth overall.
Kansas offense vs. Missouri defense
The best chance for Kansas is to get in a shootout and hope that Starling, a spectacular athlete from Gardner Edgerton, will be too much for the Missouri defense to handle. Starling is the biggest weapon on either team with his run-pass ability on each play and there's little doubt he can give the defense fits. Running back Dagan Reed from Overland Park St. Thomas Aquinas is a great athlete but not a pure running back. However, he is a dangerous weapon like Starling who can hurt you on the ground and in the air. He is complimented well by Wichita Heights big back Dreamius Smith who will handle much of the inside running.
Leading the way for the rushing attack up front will be Abilene tackle Cody Whitehair and guards Dylan Admire from Overland Park Blue Valley West, Brady Foltz from Rose Hill and center Lucas Powell from Gardner Edgerton. While the Missouri offense has more playmakers and is more balanced, the edge along the offensive line goes to Kansas.
The running game for Kansas will be strong, especially with Starling's ability to run as well, but the passing game could struggle. Liberal wideout Jade Cathey has terrific size at 6-5 and 185 pounds, but the Kansas wideouts lack size and reliable hands overall. Expect the Missouri defense to put eight in the box quite often and force Starling to throw, which could be the downfall of Kansas with the lack of weapons through the air.
The Missouri defense is especially strong at linebacker but lacks great depth in the secondary and along the defensive line. Kansas City Staley 'backer Videl Nelson lacks great size like Heeney for Kansas, but he is surrounded by more talent. Nelson is joined by Webster Groves tackling machine Jason Meehan and Florissant Hazelwood Central star Cortland Dunlap. They will play behind a defensive line led by pass-rusher Conrrad Nicholls from Raytown and will be backed up by a secondary that features lockdown cornerback Bernard Thomas from Blue Springs. However, the loss of stud Anthony Pierson to the state of Illinois hurts the athleticism and depth in the secondary.
The Missouri linebackers will be called upon to run down a lot of rushing plays and take on some athletic offensive linemen, but by playing close to the line of scrimmage and not worrying much about a weak Kansas passing game, they should be successful.
Picking a winner
This game will basically come down to how the Missouri defense deals with Starling's dual-threat ability and the rushing attack and strong offensive line of Kansas. However, while Missouri might struggle at times against the Kansas attack, the Missouri offense is too much for the Kansas defense and will lead their team to a high-scoring win. The speed and power of the running game and the size and speed in the passing game will be too much for Kansas to handle and Missouri will simply pile up points. This will put pressure on Starling to throw the ball more often and that isn't the strength of the Kansas offense.
Look for the Kansas rushing attack to keep them in the game for awhile, but once this becomes a shootout, Missouri will win by a couple of touchdowns in a high-scoring affair.
Bubba Starling, 6-5/193, Gardner Edgerton
Dagan Reed, 5-11/195, Overland Park St. Thomas Aquinas
Dreamius Smith, 6-0/205, Wichita Heights
Jade Cathey, 6-5/185, Liberal
Cameron Craig, 6-0/190, Coffeyville Field Kindley
Herman Ming, 6-2/185, Kansas City Schlagle
Derek Lee, 6-4/247, Miaze
Cody Whitehair, 6-5/300, Abilene
Dylan Admire, 6-3/264, Overland Park Blue Valley West
Brady Foltz, 6-4/290, Rose Hill
Lucas Powell, 6-4/264, Gardner Edgerton
Kirk Harris, 6-5/285, Stillwell Blue Valley
Shane Ray, 6-4/221, Shawnee Mission Bishop Miege
Drew Goodger, 6-5/234, Shawnee Mission Northwest
Jordan Phillips, 6-6/290, Towanda Circle
Jordan Turner, 6-4/320, Wichita South
Ben Heeney, 6-1/195, Hutchinson
Kyle Swartz, 6-2/215, Olathe North
Boomer Mays, 6-1/225, Eudora
Morgan Burns, 5-11/190, Wichita Trinity Academy
Adonis Saunders, 5-11/185, Olathe North
Jordan Nelson, 5-9/169, Manhattan
Victor Simmons, 6-1/185, Olathe North
Evan Allen, 6-3/205, Maize South