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.
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 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.)
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.
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.