Friday, June 4, 2010

Pre-Season Preview: Missouri Tigers

2009 Record: 8-5 (4-4 in Big 12)
2009 Bowl: Texas Bowl (lost to Navy 35 to 13)
Final 2009 AP Ranking: Not Ranked
Head Coach: Gary Pinkel (67-46 at Missouri, 140-83-3 Overall)
Non-Conference Schedule: Illinois (9/4), McNeese St (9/11), San Diego St (9/18), Miami Ohio (9/25)

2009 Offensive Statistics
Scoring: 29.0 points per game (6th in Big 12)
Rushing Yards/Game: 127 (8th in Big 12)
Passing Yards/Game: 285 (4th in Big 12)
Total Yards/Game: 412 (6th in Big 12) 

2009 Defensive Statistics
Scoring: 25.4 points per game (8th in Big 12)
Rushing Yards/Game: 118 (6th in Big 12)
Passing Yards/Game: 251 (11th in Big 12)
Total Yards/Game: 370 (8th in Big 12)

2009 Misc Stats
Turnover Margin: +0.31 per game (4th in Big 12)
Penalties: 55 yards per game (3rd in Big 12)

Returning Starters
Offense: 9
Defense: 9
Kicker/Punter: 1

Top Returning Statistical Leaders
Passing: QB Blaine Gabbert, Jr (262 of 445 for 3593 yds, 24 TD, 9 INT, 276 ypg)
Rushing: RB Derrick Washington, Sr (190 carries for 865 yds, 10 TD, 4.5 ypc, 66 ypg)
Receiving: WR Jerrell Jackson, Jr (37 rec, 458 yds, 2 TD, 2.8 rec/game)
Tackles: LB Andrew Gachkar, Sr (80), LB Will Ebner, Jr (78)
Sacks: DL Aldon Smith, Soph (11.5)
Interceptions: DB Kevin Rutland, Sr (2)

Phil Steele All-Big 12 Pre-Season
TE Andrew Jones (First Team)
C Tim Barnes (First Team) 
QB Blaine Gabbert (Second Team)
DE Aldon Smith (Second Team)
CB Carl Gettis (Second Team)
K Grant Ressel (Second Team)
OT Dan Hoch (Third Team)
RB Derrick Washington (Fourth Team)
OT Elvis Fisher (Fourth Team)
LB Andrew Gachkar (Fourth Team)
LB Will Ebner (Fourth Team)
S Jasper Simmons (Fourth Team)

2010 Pre-Season Rankings
Lindy's: Not Ranked
Mark Schlabach: Not Ranked
Rivals: Not Ranked
Scout: Not Ranked
Sporting News: #33
Sports Illustrated: Not Ranked
Athlon Sports: #21

2010 Pre-Season Big 12 North Prediction:
Athlon Sports: #2 

Bowl Prediction:
Athlon Sports: Insight Bowl (vs Michigan)

Missouri started out last year 4-0 and then went 4-4 in Big 12 play. They are just one year removed from posting back to back 10 win seasons. Can they get back over the hump this year? Missouri Blog Rock M Nation gives us the run down on the state of Missouri football.

What are the major strengths and biggest weaknesses of the team?

Strengths: Offensively, Missouri returns perhaps the top quarterback in the conference in Blaine Gabbert. The 6-5 junior-to-be was hampered by an ankle injury sustained at the start of a three-game losing streak against the three toughest teams on Missouri's schedule last season. But Gabbert showed in the spring that his deceptive wheels have returned to complement an arm that has NFL scouts drooling. Defensively, Missouri loses Sean Weatherspoon but returns an incredibly stout linebacking corps. No matter how the depth chart shakes out, three players out of Will Ebner, Luke Lambert, Zaviar Gooden, Andrew Gachkar, Josh Tatum and Donovan Bonner are going to get short-shifted in the Games Started column. Missouri's entire second linebacking team might be able to start at some of the conference's cellar dwellers.

Weaknesses: This biggest question remains in the defensive backfield. There wasn't a whole lot of attrition in the secondary in the offseason, but then again, those returning were part of one of the conference's most beleaguered units. On the other side of the ball, the graduation of Danario Alexander after the most productive receiving season in Missouri history leaves a tremendous opportunity open for a number of unproven receivers with a bit of a reputation for drops.

Looking at the schedule who will be the first major test and why?

I HATE being "Presumptuous Non-Conference Guy," but Missouri should conceivably be 4-0 after non-conference play. Ron Zook's Hindenburg impression at Illinois has left Missouri with arguably the most manageable non-conference set in the Big 12 this season, opening with Illinois, McNeese State, San Diego State, and Miami of Ohio. You could make a case that the Big 12 opener is always a major test, but Missouri should be heavily favored at home against a Colorado team the Tigers have thoroughly dominated for the last three seasons. That brings us to Oct. 16, when the Tigers travel to College Station to face Texas A&M, who is rapidly developing into a sexy sleeper in media circles this offseason. They should represent the first major test, no doubt, as Missouri embarks on a litmus test of a four-game set that includes A&M, Oklahoma, Nebraska and Texas Tech in consecutive weeks.

What team on the schedule do you fear the most?

I don't know that fear is the right word. I will say this: Missouri is capable of beating every team on its schedule. Now, this in NO way means I think Missouri should/will beat every team on the schedule. I'm not sure you ever feel comfortable in road games at Texas A&M and Texas Tech. Missouri would love to erase the "Pinkel has never beaten OU" factoid on homecoming in October against yet another talented Sooner team. And while I again acknowledge that "fear" isn't necessarily the proper term here, the entire season hinges on the Oct. 30 game against Nebraska in Lincoln. There's no question the road to the Big 12 North runs through the Sea of Red. I don't think there's any fear involved, but if there's one team or one game that Missouri is going to give the utmost respect, that's going to be it.

Who is the best player on your team that nobody talks about?

Who is "nobody" in this situation? Those who are REALLY plugged into college football and/or the Big 12 are well aware of what defensive end Aldon Smith brought to Missouri last year. Smith missed 2008, taking a redshirt because of academic eligibility issues all the while coaches said he would have been on the field if possible. They raved about his talent for a full season before he finally got turned loose in 2009. He's built at a very lanky 6'5" with a great burst upfield, which led to 11.5 sacks and a place on the Freshman All-American Team last season. With Sean Weatherspoon out of the picture, the laser pointers of opposing offensive coordinators in film rooms are now squarely on Smith.

Who is the best offensive player on the team?

It's a copout answer, but it has to be quarterback Blaine Gabbert, especially now that he can actually use his plant leg again. The hope is that his gifted right arm will be accompanied by growth in reading defenses as he enters a junior season that could be his final at Missouri if he plays up to his potential.

Who is the most impactful defensive player on the team?

How do you define "impactful" in this case? Because, technically, cornerback Robert Steeples was most impactful last season when Nebraska's Niles Paul beat him for a deep touchdown to jumpstart the Huskers' rally past Missouri in Columbia. Or you could say it was cornerback Carl Gettis, whose injury earlier in the game put Steeples on the field. As far as "impact" is concerned, lest we not forget that if Missouri holds on to win in that Thursday night monsoon, both Missouri and Nebraska finish 5-3 and the Missouri heads to JerryWorld for the Big 12 Title on the strength of that tiebreaker. Impact works both ways. Aldon Smith is the most talented. CAT scans can attest to the "impact" Will Ebner has on ballcarriers. Safety Jasper Simmons is perhaps the key cog, as he'll be charged with shoring up defensive backfield issues from a leadership position in the secondary. Gettis and fellow senior corner Kevin Rutland could be the two most important pieces. As they go, so may the team. So take your pick as to what you mean by impactful, because as you can see, there's no easy answer.

What player(s) needs to step up this year in order for the team to reach it's full capability?

Whoever is the weakest link in that Missouri secondary: Gettis, Simmons, Rutland and any of the candidates for the safety spot opposite Simmons. Whichever one finds themselves bringing up the rear needs to step it up. That likely won't be the same person week after week, but whoever it is holds the key to the next level.

Who is the top offensive newcomer that can make an impact this year?

The newcomer we're most excited about will barely see the field, and that's early-enrolled true freshman quarterback James Franklin, who appears to have the inside track to the No. 2 job and the reins to the offense in future seasons. The freshmen with the most impact, though, will likely be the trio of incoming 4-star receiver recruits: Marcus Lucas, Bud Sasser and Jimmie Hunt. The departure of Alexander, mentioned above, means there will be a ton of pass attempts looking for new homes. Who will demand them? Stay tuned.

Who is the top defensive newcomer that can make an impact this year?

He doesn't really fall into the above categories, but I'll just tell you to keep an ear out for the name Zaviar Gooden, Mizzou's newest starting linebacker. He runs like a safety with the size of a linebacker, and his legend only grew when he ran the fastest 40-time on the team during the winter. His emergence at linebacker is the exact reason why media types and those outside the program are the only ones worrying about how Mizzou will replace Sean Weatherspoon.

Gut feeling on the teams final record at the end of the regular season and what makes this a successful season in your eyes?

EVERYTHING depends on Missouri's date with the Huskers. Win in Lincoln and the whole world opens up. The Big 12 North championship is the barometer of success. Gut feeling says Missouri coughs up one of the Big 12 South road games and splits between dates with OU and NU. Which games they win and lose in those sets, I'm not sure. If we're naming floors and ceilings, Missouri's floor is around 7-5 (losses to A&M, OU, NU, Tech and another loss along the way), and the ceiling is 12-0 (again, although it's next to impossible, all games on the schedule are at least "winnable"). I'm not one for jinxing myself with schedule predictions, but I'll go ahead and say that I think reality is somewhere in the middle. 

Visit Rock M Nation for all your Missouri Tigers news, rumors and analysis. You can also follow them on Twitter @rockmnation.

Next Up: Kansas State Wildcats

2010 Previews
Big East- Cincinnati Bearcats, Pittsburgh Panthers, West Virginia Mountaineers
Big Ten- Michigan WolverinesMinnesota Golden Gophers, Northwestern Wildcats, Purdue Boilermakers
Conference USA- Houston CougarsTulane Green Wave, UTEP Miners
MAC- Buffalo Bulls, Temple Owls
Mountain West- Utah Utes
Pac-10- Oregon Ducks, USC Trojans, Washington Huskies
Sun Belt- Troy Trojans
WAC- New Mexico State Aggies


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