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An Absurdly Premature Assessment of: Missouri

A random, too-soon look at next fall, sans the inevitable injuries, suspensions and other pratfalls of the too-long interim.
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The least you should know about Missouri...
2006 Record
8-5 (4-4 Big 12, T-Second/North)
Past Five Years
33-28 (17-23 Big 12)
Returning Starters, Roughly
12 (8 Offense, 4 Defense)
Best Player
Although he’s about the fourth duel-threat MU quarterback in the last ten years who will be said to give the Tigers a chance to win almost any game (before Brad Smith, there was Kirk Farmer and Corby Jones), Chase Daniel is easily a better passer after one year as a starter than his predecessors ever were. Two significant upsets from becoming the actual darkhorse Heisman guy Smith was always rumored to be.
Bizarre Tradition(s)
Missouri plays for four very bizarre trophies every year, SMQ’s favorite being the "Telephone Trophy" with Iowa State. Although it would be interesting to rest on Faurot Field’s giant block ‘M’ and watch the peace pipe ceremony at halftime of the Oklahoma game, there is probably no more incongruous visage in the sport – not an axe, bell, barrell, shillelagh or pig, all of which SMQ sort of understands – than a trophy with a brightly-colored telphone on top of it. Maybe that’s why Section Six hates it so much. Named for an incident between assistant coaches from both teams who could hear each other, party-line style, across press box wires before an ISU-Mizzou game in 1959, which seems pretty advanced for 1959.
Bizarre Item of Dubious Interest
Typically, "Tigers" is as generic, boring an idenity as such mascots come. The original "Missouri Tigers," though, were a local militia formed to repel a guerilla attack by what SMQ is assuming were pro slavery bands (actual political allegiances are vague) ripping up the Midwest in the mid-1850s after the admission of Kansas and Missouri to the Union under undetermined – and therefore open to decision via violence – slave-free loyalties. This is part of the reason Missouri-Kansas, unlike almost any other annual rivalry, has roots as an actual bloodfeud. Even if their stupid jokes are exactly the same as everyone else’s.
What's Changed: More on them directly, but the defense lost eight guys from the first team, half of them three-year starters. They were never particuarly notable, but when the preseason magazines come out with depth charts that don’t include Dedrick Harrington, David Overstreet, Marcus Bacon, Xzavie Jackson or Brian Smith, it will be the first time since, like, 1997. Which is to say, those guys started a lot of games here. Bacon was all-Big 12 last year, Smith and Overstreet second team, and Jackson and Harrington honorable mention, just for longevity's sake.

What's the Same: Chase Daniel, besides sealing the title of "America’s Most Ethnically Ambiguous Quarterback" as long as his helmet is on, took the early lead along with Colt McCoy as the best of the freshman quarterback class of 2005 (while Ryan Perrilloux and Mark Sanchez chatted with lawyers from the bench). He led the Big 12 in total offense among players not throwing 600 passes; he was fifth nationally and arguably, if you exclude mostly pocket-bound Troy Smith, the best passer among quarterbacks who might also fall into the "scrambling" category. Daniel was used very similarly to the more elusive Brad Smith from the shotgun, doing a lot of the quarterback trap stuff out of the read option look – he had double digit carries in nine games, a tailback-like 20 at Oklahoma, and at least nine in every game – but was probably better for the offense by virtue of actually possessing a viable arm, one that threw for 3,500 yards and 28 touchdowns.

Sure, with the hair, it's obvious. Dude's white. And probably kind of a dick.
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He struggled with mistakes in the Tigers’ toughest games, throwing three picks against Oklahoma and two against Nebraska, but moved the ball on both of those defenses and on Texas A&M, where his teammates fumbled the game away in the first half.

This One’s Optimistic...: This was an outstanding offense that was never really shut down. Pinkel always spread the field with a three-receiver base and ran Smith out of the shotgun, but according to the ever underappreciated CFB Stats, Missouri threw slightly more often with Daniel in ‘06 than it ran, which never came close to happening over an entire season with Smith running the show. The only loss on that front is receiver Brad Ekwerekwu, who never made up in catches what he cost in the effort required to pronounce his name, anyway; William Franklin, Jared Perry, Tommy Saunders and very active tight ends Martin Rucker and Chase Coffman bring 221 catches and 25 touchdowns back to the attack. You’ve got Barry Sanders-ish 1,000-yard rusher Tony Temple (that’s a comparison in style and size – TT’s 5-9, 190, the epitome of thick-legged squatness – not ability) back there, too. Mizzou averaged a little shy of four touchdowns in conference games and would be somewhat disappointing if it didn’t get closer to 30 per with this group.

...This One Dropped a Payload: It had essentially everyone on a fairly productive front seven back from 2005 and was supposed to be significantly improved, and Missouri’s defense looked fine on paper last year, where it finished 39th in total and 33rd in scoring defense. But there was the matter of opening the season with Murray State, Ole Miss, New Mexico and Ohio University of Ohio, which is a pretty good way to pad the stats:

Missouri Defense - 2006
vs. Non-Conf.* vs. Big 12
Rush Yds. 43.8 184.1
Per Rush 1.6 4.5
Pass Yds. 131.5 191.5
Per Pass 4.3 6.9
Total Yds. 175.3 375.6
Points 9.3 22.3
Turnovers 2.5 2.0
Record 4-0 4-4

* - Minus Oregon State in the bowl game; OSU scored 39 on 457 total yards.

The numbers on the left, obviously, are multitudes better than those on the right, which is interesting, because Ole Miss, Ohio U. of Ohio and New Mexico last year were each at least roughly on the level of Colorado and Iowa State, horrid offenses that managed to have a couple of their best days against the Tigers.

Anyway, the point is, a ridiculously good third of the schedule against awful offenses made rank mediocrity against legit foes look close to respectable. Missouri had a veteran pass rush and a trio of seniors with about 2,500 career tackles, but was not discernibly improved in any way and now loses five of the top seven tacklers and an end combo (school record-holder Brian Smith and Xzavie Jackson) with 30 sacks the last two years.

Missouri on YouTube: Do you remember 1990? This clip will jog your memory, but be warned: 1990 has not aged particularly well. Or, at least, you haven’t aged well, which you will realize when you see all the wonderful 1990-ish elements of your youth: the box cut. The Big 8. Midriff-bearing Eric Bieniemy. Bill McCartney. A youthful Gary Barnett.The option from the power I. The option from under center. Skin-shredding Astroturf. A defense in what appears to be a 5-2 front. Jankety-looking passing. And historically incompetent officiating, culminating in Colorado’s infamous "Fifth Down" to beat Missouri en route to a share of the mythical national championship. The controversial sequence begins with Charles Johnson’s first down spike at the Missouri four-yard line. His second spike with three seconds remaining is obviously fourth down, but the Buffs are allowed to run a final play to win, and even that one’s close:

Missouri had the unique distinction of being robbed of victory over a top-ranked team in the very same end zone just seven years later, under perfectly legal but no less incredible circumstances against Nebraska. SMQ feels for the Missouri fans who rushed the field in 1990, thinking they’d made the stop on fifth down, and who would experience the same cruel nausea as a result of Matt Davison’s diving catch in 1997 (as opposed to these Kentucky fans, whose anguish was born of genuinely premature hubris). The "Flea Kicker," by the way, is ten years old this November. And apparently not on YouTube anymore? What?

See also: On a brighter note, the career highlights of the greatest Missouri quarterback ever, which does include one pass; Chase Daniel enjoys the classic sideline gourmet snack; the Mizzou Knights take over campus, or at least briefly disorient it.

Best-Case: Like last year, the non-conference is a conceivably ignorable, automatic 4-0; the conference schedule is the same and included no upsets, so the Tigers could be back at eight wins with no improvement whatsoever. If you add to that victories over Iowa State – a really inexcusable, controversial loss last year – and a not-outrageous upset of Nebraska, Oklahoma or Texas A&M, this is a team very capable of winning ten games. Do you know how long it’s been since Missouri won ten games in a season? Forty-seven years. See below.

Worst-Case: The defense will likely have some serious issues, on top of the problems it’s had with more experienced personnel the last two years. Illinois in St. Louis and Ole Miss in Oxford aren’t automatic – Missouri is the perfect early catalyst for the expected breakthrough from either. Worst-case, both. Hell, Western Michigan on "Family Weekend" is dangerous. Five of the conference games are toss-ups, including Iowa State (new coach) and Colorado (where SMQ will still consider Dan Hawkins new, because 2006 is being scrubbed from CU history as he types), so if four of those break the wrong way, along with the three MU will already be favored to lose, things could be as bad as 4-8. Pinkel probably wouldn’t survive that, not with this offense.

Non-Binding Forecast: Where a lot of the numbers appear to be there and Daniel may get his share of hype, Missouri remains thoroughly, completely average among its peer group, as it’s been since it began playing football – Mizzou has two conference titles since World War II, both under Dan Devine in the 1960s and one of them shared, and hasn’t won nine games since 1969. They were a two-point conversion away from breaking through that barrier in the Sun Bowl and came up short of it, The Tigers’ best Big 12 record is 5-3 in 1997 and 1998; they haven’t finished above .500 in any conference since, and hadn’t before going back to 1983. Pinkel’s tenure is one perpetual 4-4. So mark that down, give ‘em an upset loss in one of the first two games, and you get 7-5, which is probably good enough for the Independence or Insight bowls, again.