When T.J. Moe was a run-pass quarterback at Fort Zumwalt West High in O'Fallon, Mo., he was known for breaking games open. While Missouri's coaches recruited him to play safety, Moe persuaded them to let him audition for a spot—wide receiver—where he could better use his quickness and cutting ability. But a broken right foot that had gone undiagnosed in high school required surgery and forced him to miss spring practice. "It was pretty discouraging how my career started," says the 6-foot, 200-pound Moe, who caught two passes for eight yards as a freshman in 2009. "I was just trying to recover. I had no idea how to play receiver."
To get up to speed during the 2010 off-season he often worked with former Tigers captain and star wideout Tommy Saunders. Moe won the starting slot receiver job and became a favorite target of quarterback Blaine Gabbert, leading the Tigers in catches (92), yards (1,045) and touchdowns (six)—including a 68-yard game-winner against San Diego State that helped Mizzou start 7--0 for the first time in 50 years.
Moe is one of nine offensive starters returning to a team that wasted a chance to build on its landmark upset of then No. 1 Oklahoma last October 23. (Subsequent road losses to Nebraska and Texas Tech kept the Tigers from playing in a top-tier bowl.) His reliable hands will be a boon to sophomore James Franklin, a dual-threat quarterback who throws a more catchable ball than Gabbert did. "Blaine had maybe the strongest arm I've ever been around," Moe says. "James does a really good job of putting a lot of touch on the ball. He can fit it into tight windows, and he can see the field really well."
And he should have no trouble finding Moe, who has improved his burst off the line and his precision coming out of breaks. For a guy who just started playing the position two years ago, he looks like a natural. "He hasn't even scratched the surface of his potential," says Missouri coach Gary Pinkel. Once tough to peg, Moe now leaves no question about what he can be to the Tigers: a game-breaker.
3 Miami (Ohio)
9 at Arizona State
17 Western Illinois
24 at Oklahoma
8 at Kansas State
15 Iowa State
22 Oklahoma State
29 at Texas A&M
5 at Baylor
19 Texas Tech
26 vs. Kansas (in Kansas City, Mo.)
Nearly automatic with his kicks, he's connected on 43 of 46 FGs and 84 of 86 extra points over the past two seasons.
The 6'6", 245-pound playmaker led all tight ends in catches (90) and was second on the team in receiving yards (762).
After three sacks and two picks last year, he'll be an even more disruptive force.
Conference Big 12
Coach Gary Pinkel (11th year)
2010 Record 10--3 (6--2 in Big 12)
Final AP Rank 18
Returning Starters 15
Offense 9, Defense 6
DAVE KAUP/REUTERS (MOE)
A quarterback in high school who was recruited to play safety, Moe showed that in making the transition to receiver, it helps to be a quick study with quick feet.
DILIP VISHWANAT/GETTY IMAGES (GOODEN)