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Thoughts on FU

Danario Alexander and the Tigers will runaway with a victory on Saturday. (Photo from powermizzou.com)

Danario Alexander and the Tigers will runaway with a victory on Saturday. (Photo from powermizzou.com)

A few thoughts heading into Saturday’s game:

Quick Start: After a sluggish start last week, I expect quite the opposite this week.  Missouri players admitted that their practices got a little sloppy when they were preparing for Bowling Green.  Gary Pinkel admitted that his team didn’t improve from week one to week two.  Don’t think for a second that Pinkel will let that happen again. “I didn’t feel like we got better as a team and I’m disappointed in it, but that’s my responsibility,” Pinkel said following the Bowling Green win.

The Bowling Green game was far too close for Missouri.  They don’t want the same thing to happen against Furman, and they won’t let it happen.  They’ll start fast and put this one away early.

Turnovers: Against Illinois, Mizzou forced two turnovers.  They won that game by 28.  Against Bowling Green they forced zero turnovers.  They won that game by 7.  Coincidence?  Furman quarterback Jordan Sorrells has thrown an interception in each game of the season.  Look for Missouri to snag a couple of interceptions to kill Furman drives.

Offensive Line: No position is in question more than Missouri’s offensive line.  They were supposed to be a strength of the team and well, they haven’t been.  Furman doesn’t have a defensive lineman over 275 lbs.  If Missouri’s offensive line doesn’t completely dominate the line of scrimmage, there will be some serious cause for concern.  Blaine Gabbert should have all day to throw on Saturday.

Can we get a punt return? I don’t think any of us expected Carl Gettis to be Jeremy Maclin 2.0 when he was named the Tigers’ punt returner.  But I don’t think anyone thought Mizzou’s return game would be this anemic.  Gettis’ one return last week resulted in a fumble.  Pinkel isn’t blaming Gettis for the poor return game, he just hasn’t had much of an opportunity.  It’d be nice to see what he can do if he has some blocks this week.  If nothing else, let’s just hope he doesn’t fumble when given the chance.

Grant Ressel for Heisman? Two games is not enough time to judge anybody or any team.  But it is enough time to start noticing trends.  The trend for Missouri’s kicking game is perfect.  Literally.  Let’s see if Ressel keeps it up.  If he does, look for more praise from Pinkel.  When asked about Ressel on Monday Pinkel put it well: “We’re certainly thrilled with him.”

Scorpion Attack: If you haven’t heard, Missouri’s trio of imposing D-ends have been nicknamed the scorpion.  I personally prefer rockmnation’s nickname of “The law firm of Smith, Smith, and Coulter.”  No matter what you call them, look for them to rack up more sacks this week.  I’d also like to see if they can apply some pressure early in the game.  Most of their sacks have come in the fourth quarter. Brian Coulter needs to step up his game if he wants to keep partner status in the firm.  Aldon Smith has 4 tackles for loss and 2 sacks.  Jacquies Smith has 1.5 TFL and 1.5 sacks.  Coulter, meanwhile has zero TFL and zero sacks.  Look for Coulter, the man with “Boss” boldly painted across his car, to change those numbers this weekend.

Unsung Hero: Kendial Lawrence stepped it up last week.  If Missouri puts this one away early, which player we don’t normally see will emerge?  Is this the week Jimmy Costello makes his collegiate debut?  Does T.J. Moe show us why he’s gotten all the hype?  Does Pinkel burn L’Damian Washington’s redshirt?

Prediction:  Illinois faced a focused and prepared Missouri team.  They lost by four touchdowns.  Missouri won’t look past Furman.  The Tigers will come out focused and handle their biz in front of an impressive crowd at Faurot.  Mizzou wins 45-10


Furman: An unfamiliar foe with an unfamiliar nickname

Not exactly sure what a Paladin is?  Neither were the Mizzou players.

The Furman Paladins, a team from the Southern Conference, aren't exactly an opponent everybody's heard of.

The Furman Paladins, a team from the Southern Conference, aren't exactly an opponent everybody's heard of.

As the week progresses and the Tigers’ troubles against Bowling Green fade further into the rear view mirror, I figured it’s time to start looking ahead to Saturday’s game against the Furman Paladins…Wait a sec, the Paladins?  First of all, yes, that seriously is their nickname, secondly, what the heck is a Paladin?

College football is home to some great nicknames.  Missouri has faced off against everyone from Gamecocks to Jayhawks, from Red Raiders to Blue Raiders.  They’ve played Racers and Rebels, Lobos and Longhorns, and Red Wolves and Redhawks.  But not once in its long history has the Missouri Tigers football team faced the Paladins.  So we thought we’d ask some of the guys, “What exactly is a Paladin?”

“[Their mascot] Is the who?” senior defensive tackle Jaron Baston said pausing to laugh.  “I’ve never heard of that before in my life.  A paladin?” he repeated slowly.

“Maybe it’s some sort of ancient warrior or fighter or something like that.  Is that what it is?”

Um, sorry Jaron, not exactly.

Defensive tackle Jaron Baston wasn't the only one who was unfamiliar with the Paladins. (Photo from kansascity.com)

Defensive tackle Jaron Baston wasn't the only one who was unfamiliar with the Paladins. (Photo from kansascity.com)

Sophomore tight end Andrew Jones thought he might have the inside scoop on the Paladins after reviewing some film earlier in the day.

“I was just watching film and I seen it written in their endzone,” he said.  His response sounded promising.  That is until he continued. “But I don’t know what it is.  I saw a horse thing running around on their field, but yeah I have no idea.”

Sorry Andrew, a paladin isn’t exactly a horse thing either.

Coming off a stellar rushing performance against Bowling Green, we thought maybe running back Derrick Washington’s good fortune’s might continue.  However, he was also unsure of the Furman mascot.

“No, I have no clue,” he replied with a laugh.  “Do you know what it is?  I can’t even guess.”

Hopefully for Mizzou, Washington can get past the Furman D better than he got around answering our question.

Finally, we approached senior captain Sean Weatherspoon.  Perhaps he would know what a paladin is.  He quickly told us otherwise.

“I have no idea,” he said.  “I’ve got to do a little more homework to find that out man.  I’ve never heard of that, but my mom did actually go to Furman for a semester.  I’ve never asked her, I’m about to call her and find out today though.

Any guesses Spoon?

“No man, I don’t even want to go there.”

According to the Oxford dictionary a paladin is, “a knight renowned for heroism and chivalry.”

On the football field the Paladins are a strong FCS team.  They are 2-0 this season and 58-29 all time under coach Bobby Lamb, who is in his 8th year with Furman.  This week they received votes in the FCS coaches poll and would be ranked 30th if the rankings continued.

However, Missouri is the first FBS team the Paladins will face this season and playing at “The Zou,” should be a little different for them than playing in front of 11,000 at Chattanooga as they did a week ago.

So no matter if you think the Paladins are ancient warriors as Baston guessed or some type of panther like senior Brian Coulter suggested, the bottom line is the Paladins should be nothing but the Tigers’ next ‘W’ on the schedule.


Tigers looking to protect “The Zou”

Missouri officials are expecting about 70,000 people at "The Zou" this Saturday.

Missouri officials are expecting about 70,000 people at "The Zou" this Saturday.

Columbia, Missouri may not be home to a real zoo with wild animals, but this Saturday it will be home to a different kind of zoo: “The Zou.”

Technically, Missouri’s Faurot Field has been nicknamed “The Zou” since 2003, but this year the athletic department has put a greater emphasis on getting that nickname more exposure.  Just this week, “The Zou” was added to the each side of the stadium and it is boldly emblazoned on the back of the new scoreboard.  Around campus it seems the name is slowly catching on, much to the delight of the players.

“I like calling it The Zou,” sophomore safety Kenji Jackson said.  “It’s got some swagger to it.”

Teammate Danario Alexander agrees.

“The Zou is a perfect name for it,” Alexander said.  “It’s the Zou.  We want to make it crazy in that place, make it a tough place to play.”

Meanwhile, Sean Weatherspoon attributes the name to the way the Tigers have played there lately.  “We’ve got some wild and crazy animals that play in the Zou.  We’ve done a great job protecting home and I want to keep that going.”

If Missouri does keep it going, it is going to take a strong effort against an underrated Bowling Green team.

Missouri is 30-7 at home since nicknaming Faurot Field “The Zou,” in 2003.  Better yet, they have gone 17-2 there in the last three seasons.  However, that does not mean Bowling Green is going down without a fight.

Falcons’ senior quarterback Tyler Sheehan, who threw for 339 yards and two touchdowns in his team’s week one victory is expressing no shortage of confidence as he prepares to face an improved Mizzou defense.

“We’re expecting big things from us (this week),” Sheehan said when asked what he expects when taking on the 25th ranked Tigers.  “We have a good shot at getting some attention from some people.”

Gary Pinkel is among those who are already giving full attention to Sheehan and the Falcons.  Pinkel is 0-2 at Mizzou when facing Bowling Green.  Although the Tigers last loss to Bowling Green was back in 2002, Pinkel is determined it doesn’t happen to this year’s team.

“Every player has things they can do to improve,” Pinkel said.  “[Bowling Green] is a good football team.”

So while fans continue to scoop up the last remaining tickets for this week’s game, they could be in for a surprise if they are expecting a total blowout.  Bowling Green is 11-8 against major conference opponents since 2001.  And oh yeah, the last time the Falcons played a team ranked 25th in the country?  They beat Pittsburgh 27-17 just last season.

Workers at MU's Faurot Field were already rolling out the temporary general admission bleachers last week.

Workers at MU's Faurot Field were already rolling out the temporary general admission bleachers last week.

Missouri is the favorite in Saturday’s contest and rightfully so, but no matter how rowdy “The Zou” gets, don’t expect a complete Tiger feeding frenzy.  However, if last Saturday’s performance against Illinois is truly an indication of how good this team is, the Tigers will once again send Tiger fans home happy.

As defensive tackle Jaron Baston put it,  “This is a program here to stay,” he said.  “As long as they come out and support us, I think we’ll make them pretty happy.”


Note: At the request of some of our readers, I have put up some final scoreboard pictures below.  After this, you’ll have to come see it person.


Mizzou makes a statement

Missouri silences critics in blowout of Illinois

Jared Perry and the Missouri offense could not be stopped on Saturday. (AP photo)

Jared Perry and the Missouri offense could not be stopped on Saturday. (AP photo)

The Missouri football players had heard all the doubts.  They had seen all the underwhelming predictions.  They had heard about all the critics.  And in just over three hours they managed to silence all of them.  In an opening game demolition of Illinois, Missouri made its statement.  They made it loud and clear.  Missouri football is here to stay.

“All I know is we bust our butts,” said defensive tackle Jaron Baston.  “We want to prove to the world that Mizzou football is here to stay.”

We are only one game into the 2009 season, but so far, that’s exactly what the Tigers have done.  Already critics are backpedaling.  ESPN writer Tim Griffin, who was less than kind to Missouri this off-season wrote on Sunday:

“We might have written off the Tigers’ chances to contend in the North Division a little too early if Saturday’s performance is any indication.”

Monday at media day, Baston joined in on ripping another ESPN writer, Kirk Herbstreit.  Herbstreit had predicted that Missouri was the number one team on the decline this season.  Baston made a point Monday to poke fun at him.

“Somebody (talking about Herbstreit), said we were the first to go down or something like that,” Baston said with a smile on his face.  “Hey, I guess he did a good job of making that decision or whatever he said,” the starting tackle continued jokingly.

The players were expecting to beat Illinois, but not even linebacker Sean Weatherspoon could have predicted the total beat down that Mizzou handed the Illini.

“I expected it to be a better game,” Weatherspoon said.  “I thought it’d be a lot tougher.   But when you go out there and prepare the way we did, you can’t be surprised when it goes like that.”

In case you missed it, the “like that,” that ‘Spoon’ was referring to, was a complete dismantling of an Illinois team that was supposed to be the program’s most talented roster in years.

On offense, defense, and special teams, Missouri was completely dominant.  They made a veteran Illinois team look ill prepared, demoralized, and just downright bad.

When first time starter Blaine Gabbert wasn’t distributing passes all over the field, he was making plays with his feet.  When a clearly improved Missouri secondary wasn’t forcing Juice Williams into bad throws, the defensive line was harassing him.  As former Missouri standout Jeremy Maclin told Weatherspoon following the game, Mizzou’s performance, “Almost brought tears to his eyes.”

Blaine Gabbert was the Big 12's highest rated passer in week one. (AP photo)

Blaine Gabbert was the Big 12's highest rated passer in week one. (AP photo)

Following Missouri’s drubbing of Illinois it would be easy for the team to get overconfident.  However, Head Coach Gary Pinkel is making sure that will not happen as Mizzou prepares for its home opener this Saturday against Bowling Green.

“Every player has things they can do to improve,” Pinkel said.  “We’re not good enough to be overconfident.”

After yet another victory in the Arch Rivalry, the Tigers are looking forward to returning home to “The Zou.”

The University is trying to get the nickname, “The Zou,” to catch on this year.  The nickname has been added to the new scoreboard and the sides of the stadium.  Whether you call it Faurot Field or The Zou, Pinkel just hopes it is filled this weekend.

“I’ll be real disappointed if we don’t have 70,000 people there in gold,” he said.  We’re trying to create that as one of the toughest places to play in the United States.”

Weatherspoon agrees with his coach about Saturday’s attendance.

“I’ll be disappointed as well [if there aren’t 70,000 in attendance].

If Missouri plays like they did last Saturday, not only will they not be disappointed about attendance, but also their outcome on the field.


Bold Predictions

With the 2009 football season just hours away, we felt compelled to step out on a limb with a few brash predictions for Mizzou this year.  Brace yourself for 13 predictions you might not see coming.

While we aren't exactly predicting a BCS bowl for Gary Pinkel the Tigers, some may be surprised with our predictions. (Photo courtesy of mutigers.com)

While we aren't exactly predicting a BCS bowl for Gary Pinkel the Tigers, some may be surprised with our thoughts. (Photo courtesy of mutigers.com)

MG – Bold Prediction 1: Missouri will enter conference play undefeated.

I don’t even know if this qualifies as bold.  Gary Pinkel has taken this program to a level where, barring some sort of total disaster, the Tigers days of losing to Bowling Green should be behind them.  The Furman game (or shall we say scrimmage?) is already chalked up as a W.  For those out there that think Nevada may knock off Missouri this season, I’m sorry, a team doesn’t get beaten 69-17 one year and then rebound the following year for a win.  It’s just not happening.  I understand they have a very capable quarterback in Colin Kaepernick, a solid offense, and are a team that should be in a bowl game again this year, but despite Mizzou’s loss of talent, Nevada hasn’t caught up by 52 points.  Having said all of that, this prediction comes down to the Illinois game.  On paper Illinois has more weapons.  They are probably the logical choice.  But Pinkel just seems to have Ron Zook’s number.  Zook has never led Illinois to a win over Missouri.  I think Missouri squeaks out a close win in week one and carries that momentum through the remainder of the non-conference schedule.

TW – Bold Prediction 2: Wes Kemp leads the team in receptions and fewest dropped balls, but Danario Alexander will lead Missouri in receiving yards and Jared Perry in touchdowns.

Wes Kemp and Blaine Gabbert are not only friends since high school, but were also roommates throughout the 2008 season in which they both saw the field as true freshman.  The duo have developed a good chemistry on the field this off-season and Gabbert seems to have a certain trust in going to Kemp under pressure.  The 6’4,” 225 lb. Kemp is a big target with good hands.  This past spring he earned the team’s “Most Improved Wide Receiver,” recognition.  Starting in the Z wide receiver position, Kemp should be relied on as a possession receiver who will make a significant impact on the Tiger offense.

As for yardage, Danario Alexander’s size (6’5” 215 lbs.)and big play ability have been apparent since he was a freshman and was initially listed ahead of some guy named Jeremy Maclin on the depth chart.  When healthy, we all know what Alexander can do (case in point ’07 vs. Illinois: 9 catches for 82 yards).  He has averaged over 15 yards per catch in eight games over the course of his career.  While he may not receive as many passes as Kemp, Alexander should rack up the yardage in 2009.

Most people would expect Alexander to lead the team in TD’s strictly based on size.   Opposing defenses will focus on Alexander inside the redzone allowing the long and lean Perry to get open underneath.  As long as Perry can hold on to the ball, he should improve upon his 41 catch, 567 yard, 4 touchdown season he recorded a year ago.

MG – Bold Prediction 3: Kevin Rutland will become a household name for Missouri fans.

If Kevin Rutland isn’t a name with which you’re already familiar, you will be after this season.  The 6′ junior cornerback will be a starter this year and should help improve the Missouri secondary that ranked 117th against the pass last year.  His progression in the Mizzou program has been equated to William Moore, who burst onto the national scene in his junior year.  Look for Rutland to do the same.  He has NFL speed and coaches love his potential.

MG – Bold Prediction 4: Hardy Ricks will do the same.

Ricks is a senior with more experience than people may know.  He has played in 40 games over his career and has four career starts.  However, that is not why Ricks is going to make headlines.  He will do it with his big hits and nose for the football.  In limited time against Texas last year he recorded a career-high nine tackles.  Look for those type of numbers to become the norm for Ricks who the Mizzou media guide calls, “Arguably the hardest hitter on the team.”  I’m not the only one who thinks this could be a big year for Ricks.  The Columbia Daily Tribune’s Dave Matter, arguably the best source for Mizzou football insight, also had glowing remarks about Ricks in a recent blog entry on the paper’s website.

“Just got a hunch on Ricks,” Matter wrote.  “He’s got top-five speed on the entire team and can lay a vicious hit. He’s due to make an impact.”

Look for Ricks and Rutland to lead a Mizzou secondary that has nowhere to go but up in 2009.

TW – Bold Prediction 5: Fans will not be disappointed come signing day with plenty of stars to make them happy.

There are plenty of 4 stars and well represented 3 stars with a high interest in Mizzou. On top of that it is certain names will surface midseason that no one can predict at this point. As well the unranked Tigers project to 3 stars and maybe a 4 star thrown in.

MG – Bold Prediction 6: De’Vion Moore will have people talking about a running back controversy.

Derrick Washington is a great running back.  He is a leader on the team and has impressive seasons under his belt that lead us to believe he will be even better in 2009.  This prediction is not taking anything away from D-Wash, but is rather a tribute to how good De’Vion Moore is.  One former Mizzou player I talked to this summer said he believes that Moore is not just a nice compliment to Washington, but rather the better back altogether.  Pinkel has already said that Moore is the best back-up running back he’s coached.  At just 5’9,” the shifty and speedy Moore will provide Missouri with a great second option in the backfield.  Coming off spring practice where he was named the team’s Most Improved Offensive Back, Moore will see more than his fair share of carries – and big plays – in 2009.

TW – Bold Prediction 7: Even with Reactor lot being closed to tailgating, college kids will still find somewhere to party before games.

This one is inevitable.  As the University and Columbia police continue to crack down on underage drinking in Columbia, the popular tailgating spot known as Reactor Field will be turned into a media parking lot and will be closed to fans.

According to a document released by the MU athletic department, “This change in policy was decided upon by the University of Missouri and supported by the MU Police Department and the Department of Intercollegiate Athletics in an effort to eliminate some of the disturbances and operational challenges that occurred in the lot last season.”

Nonetheless, college students are going to tailgate somewhere, so I’ll go ahead and say that while Tom’s prediction is accurate, it shouldn’t come as a surprise to many.

MG – Bold Prediction 8: Of Missouri’s biggest games on the schedule – Illinois, Nebraska, Oklahoma State, Texas, and KU – the Tigers go 3-2.

I’ve already gone on record saying I believe Missouri beats Illinois.  That means I think we’ll go 2-2 in the remaining, “big games.”  Most people are counting Oklahoma State and Texas as automatic losses.  I think that is accurate as well, but I wouldn’t be 100 percent shocked to see Missouri return the favor done to them last year and upset Okie State.  In Missouri’s series with the Cowboys, the home team is 0-3 at home in the last three meetings.  Maybe that trend continues this season.  More reasonably, I think Missouri finds its three wins against the “big opponents,” against Illinois, Nebraska and KU.  However, with such a young team I wouldn’t be surprised to see a loss to one of the lower ranked teams and then see the Tigers shock the nation and steal a win in Stillwater.

Having said that….

MG – Bold Prediction 9: Missouri will lose one game fans expect them to win. (And I’m not counting Illinois, Nebraska, or KU as expected wins).

Time to fall back to reality after getting wildly optimistic with that last prediction.  Every critic in the world will tell you a million reasons why Missouri will be bad in 2009.  They are young, unproven, have a rookie quarterback, the list goes on and on.  Heck, we’re Missouri fans.  We’re used to bad losses and bad luck here and there.  Mizzou has dropped games to Bowling Green, Troy and New Mexico while being coached by Gary Pinkel.  We can’t act like a loss to Baylor, Colorado, K-State or Iowa State would be all that shocking this season.  With such a young team and a new starting quarterback, gone are the days when we as fans can simply count certain Big 12 games as guaranteed wins. (Want to be brought back to reality even further?  Read this random article I stumbled upon earlier:

http://bleacherreport.com/articles/243044-why-the-missouri-tigers-wont-go-bowling-in-2009/ )

TW- Bold Prediction 10: Blaine Gabbert’s true coming out  party will come on Thursday October 8th throwing 3 TDs and adding one by ground beating Nebraska.

They call them bold predictions, and I really have no basis, I’m just being bold. Blaine goes for 330 and 4 in the air, adding another 60 and 1 on the ground. We can all only hope he preforms like this.

TW- Bold Prediction 11: Our top 3 Defensive Ends will rank in the top ten in the nation for sacks by 3 teammates.

Go through all division 1 football teams and take their top three sack leaders at the end of the season, and Missouri will rank in that top 10. This is not a bold prediction on my part, no, I’m guaranteeing this one.

TW – Bold Prediction 12:  Carl Gettis is closer to 2007 Gettis than 2008 Gettis, and the defense as a unit follows suit.

Carl Gettis returns to the lockdown corner he was as a true freshman and not just a warm body in the secondary like everyone was last year.  While the defense returns to respectability and allows missouri to compete with out scoring 40 or 50 points a game.

MG – Bold Prediction 13: Missouri fans will be glad Matt Eberflus is gone.

Usually when a college team’s defensive coordinator leaves his position to move up to the NFL, it is considered a big loss for the college team.  But not necessarily in the case of Eberflus.  He had coached under Pinkel since 1992 and was Mizzou’s D-coordinator since 2001.  Eberflus did a very good job over the course of his career at Missouri.  In 2007 alone he was named National Defensive Coordinator of the Week on two occasions. However, last year’s defense left a bad taste in people’s mouth.  There is no other way to explain the 117th best pass defense other than poor communication and poor coaching.  It certainly wasn’t like Eberflus was working with a lack talent.  Three players from last year’s defense will be playing in the NFL this fall.  Players often complained of schemes that were too complex and were oftentimes found out of position.  Those complex schemes had to be the reason for a lot the blown coverage we saw last season.  I mean, how else do you explain Juice Williams throwing for 451 yards and 5 touchdowns?  It’s Juice Williams. The only way Juice puts up those numbers is due to broken coverage and poor communication.  So Eberflus bounced to the NFL while the opportunity was there and in stepped Dave Steckel.  The no-nonsense coach was promoted from linebackers coach to replace Eberflus.  Having coached at Mizzou since 2001, Steckel is familiar with the program and its personnel.  He has simplified the defensive schemes and players seem to be liking him thus far.  Steckel’s transition to defensive coordinator should be a seamless one.

Reflections on Mizzou Before We Kickoff


While I may be split as to which side will prevail on Saturday, I am certain that Mizzou football will be better than the doubters think.

While I may be split as to which side will prevail on Saturday, I am certain that Mizzou football will be better than the doubters think. (Photo by Chris Lee, STL Today)

            Yep, I will graciously confess that, until about two weeks ago, I was one of the individuals that the previous author eluded to when denouncing that this year’s Missouri football team is so different than last year’s to have any reasonable expectations for high success.  The 2009 team is lacking many of the tangible assets that gave the 2007-2008 squads such fruition.  The team is lacking proven superstars.  No more Chase Daniel, no more Jeremy Maclin, no more Chase Coffman, and “no mo” Willy Mo. 

While star power has diminished on the roster, it has also diminished in the booth.  Offensive coordinator Dave Christensen booked it to Laramie to begin a horseshoe business (and head Wyoming’s football program), while defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus ran to the NFL.  With their departures came two new familiar faces.  Commanding the offensive side of the ball is Dave Yost, the former Missouri quarterbacks coach who looks more like he belongs at afternoon meetings on the beach scoping swells with Laird Hamilton than he does scoping Big 12 defenses.  Dave Steckel, the muscular linebackers coach is taking over as defensive coordinator for Eberflus. 

Would you rather have this guy coaching your surf club or your football team?  I will take football.

Would you rather have this guy coaching your surf club or your football team? I will take football. (Photo by L.G. Patterson, AP)

            With all of these losses from a year ago, it would be silly to put any stock into this year’s Missouri squad, wouldn’t it?  Two weeks ago, my answer would have been yes.  I was commanding the bandwagon of doubters, sipping on ‘haterade’ and just wishing that the ‘ole boys could come back for one last season; one last shot at a Big 12 Championship.  The news of Sheldon Richardson being academically ineligible to attend the university had me listening to Adam Lambert’s gloomy version of ‘Mad World’ for weeks.  I would have never even dreamt of saying that Mizzou could knock off Illinois, who albeit struggled last year, still has a boatload of talent returning this season.

            Finally, after weeks of swimming in a sea of doubt, I woke up from the doldrums.  I attended Mizzou training camp scrimmages and saw the potential that this year’s team has.  Blaine Gabbert looks like he is the real deal.  At 6’5”, 240 lbs. Gabbert has the NFL body that Chase Daniel didn’t have, and the quickness that every coach dreams of having in a signal caller.

Gabbert has the body to run over people, if necessary.

Blaine Gabbert has the body to run over people, if necessary. (Photo by Julia Robinson, Columbia Daily Tribune.)

Gabbert is not alone, however.  Danario Alexander will be his primary target, and rumors have swirled saying that some players think Alexander could be better than Maclin, if healthy.  Well, Danario is healthy now, so let the debate begin. 

Derrick Washington returns.  De’Vion Moore will have an increased role.  Andrew Jones has the potential to become the next great tight end at ‘Tight End U.” 

Sean Weatherspoon is no longer sandwiched between talented defensive stars in Ziggy Hood and William Moore.  But, Spoon does seem hungrier than ever and he put on the weight over the summer to crack enough hard hits to make up for their losses.

I do not want to run through the whole roster and tell you who I think can replace holes from last year’s team.  That would just bore you, and considering that the opener against Illinois is tomorrow night, I’m sure you all are already clued in.

What I’m trying to accomplish with this elegantly scribed column is that Mizzou football is not as destitute as people like Kirk Herbstreit think (in case you didn’t hear, Herbstreit picked Mizzou as his No. 1 team on the move down in 2009.) 

Gary Pinkel has his own eye for talent.

Gary Pinkel has his own eye for talent. (Midwest Sports fans photo)

While it may not protrude as much as in the past couple years, Mizzou’s talent is still there.  You just have to look a little harder and give some of the younger guys a chance.  If anything, I have always thought that it is Mizzou’s system that makes players great.  Gary Pinkel does an excellent job at developing players and recruiting for his system.  So, while there isn’t a plethora of four and five star recruits distributed across the roster, I trust what the coaching staff is doing.

Don’t think too long and hard about predictions for tomorrow’s game with Illinois.  It will drive you crazy.  Trust me.  I have hopped from one side of the fence to another for weeks trying to figure out this one.  I am settling on, “It’s gonna be a good game.” 

If the talent-laden Illinois team shows up in full force, then Mizzou will have some trouble.  Arrelious Benn is as dominant receiver as any in the country, and if Juice Williams can get him the ball without making too many mistakes, then Missouri will need to adjust effectively if they want to succeed.  The Illinois team may look better on paper, but all too often, game are won with intangibles like leadership, strategy, and aggressiveness.  As we saw last season with Illinois, a team with Rose Bowl talent can easily become a 5-7 team if not coached effectively. 

Arrelious Benn should be lockdown target No. 1 for Mizzou's defense on Saturday.

WR Arrelious Benn should be lockdown target No. 1 for Mizzou's defense on Saturday. (Athlon Sports photo)

Mizzou is entering this season extremely hungry, determined to prove that there will not be as big of a drop off in achievement as everyone thinks, if any.  One more thing: After the crew here at the Columns told Sean Weatherspoon about Herbstreit’s comments, he said that he will deliver one hell of a pregame speech on Saturday and keep the ESPN analyst’s comments in mind.  As far as I’m concerned, I would not want to be running out on offense to line up against a defense that was just motivated by Spoon, who jokingly said that “some tears might be involved” in his pregame hollering.