COLUMBIA, Mo. -- In 2008, Missouri's secondary ranked as the Big 12's worst, giving up more than 4,000 yards, 700 more than the next worst in the Big 12. That ranked 118th out of 120 teams in college football.
A year later, the Tigers ranked 11th in the Big 12 and couldn't crack the national top 100.
But finally, with a pair of corners who struggled in those two seasons, 2010 was a breakthrough season for Missouri's secondary.
"We have good players and they played at a very consistent level," said coach Gary Pinkel. "And I think the athleticism and experience level of our guys, with all that we saw a little more consistency."
Kevin Rutland and Carl Gettis helped Missouri's pass defense improve to No. 3 in the Big 12 and No. 37 nationally, behind only Nebraska and Texas, who both were in the national top 10.
Most importantly, the Tigers improved to 10 wins, the same number the team had in 2008, when Missouri fielded an offense with NFL talents like quarterback Chase Daniel, receiver Jeremy Maclin and Chase Coffman.
But now, Rutland and Gettis are gone, as is safety Jarrell Harrison. Those stepping into their voids are charged with building on last year's successes without the experience (and lessons learned) from Rutland and Gettis' early years.
"Our expectations are to be No. 1 in the league in pass defense. That’s our goal," said cornerback Kip Edwards.
The Tigers classify him as a returning starter because he was on the field in all of Missouri's nickel and dime packages, and often rotated in with both Gettis and Rutland.
Sophomore E.J. Gaines entered spring as the other starter, ahead of senior Trey Hobson. Edwards was counted on for plenty in 2010, but Gaines, Hobson and new free safety Tavon Bolden will have a lot asked of them in trying to continue the growth the unit showed last season. Junior Robert Steeples should contribute as the team's second corner behind Edwards, similar to how much Edwards played last year.
"I don’t say you don’t miss a beat, but Kip is obviously good enough to win a championship with, and E.J. is really improving. Steeples is going to try to earn a job. Hobson is going to try and earn a job," Pinkel said.
Along with the only other returning starter in the secondary, strong safety Kenji Jackson, the Tigers will know where to look for guidance.
"I should be able to step in and guide the young guys through it," Edwards said. "Really, we have the talent to be the best secondary in the Big 12."