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The Nouveau Riche: Missouri

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The Norm. To say Missouri was in a rut during Gary Pinkel's first six seasons would be an understatement. In fact, it goes back quite a bit farther than that: Missouri's last conference title was in 1969, in the Big Eight, a conference subsequently dominated by Nebraska, Oklahoma and Colorado as the Tigers remained in mystifying mediocrity. Take the trend pre-2007 and extend it back 35 years:

As for Pinkel, his team's annual Big 12 marks heading into last season were 3-5, 2-6, 4-4, 3-5, 4-4 and 4-4 beginning in 2001. There was some hint Mizzou was good enough to compete for the title in a watered-down North division; there was none at all it would run roughshod over every team it faced in the conference that wasn't Oklahoma.

Get Used To It. The Tigers outgunned seven non-OU opponents in-conference by 15 points and 110 yards per game and set new school records for wins, conference wins, passing yards, total yards, scoring and final poll finish (fourth by the AP after a Cotton Bowl blowout of Arkansas). They beat Nebraska by 35, Texas Tech by 31, Colorado by 45, Arkansas by 31, Texas A&M by 17 and Kansas State by fourteen. They bookended the regular season with wins over two teams that ended in the BCS (Illinois and Kansas). By margin and degree of difficulty, Missouri was as much a non-flukey powerhouse as anybody.

If Chase Daniel was truly a one-man show, it might make some sense to question the offense's sustainability, like a one-shot supernova. But back alongside Daniel is Jeremy Maclin, who set a new I-A record for freshmen with almost 2,800 yards rushing, receiving and returning, and three other receivers (Danario Alexander, Tommy Saunders and tight end Chase Coffman) who combined for 130 catches. Other than Maclin, who can properly fly, these are not extraordinary talents. Daniel is an accurate, first-rate decision maker, and as long as he's well-protected - and Pinkell's system continues to make defenses pay for their aggressiveness with a lot of screens, misdirection and a deceptive, trap-heavy running game - the offense might as well be on high-scoring autopilot.

Enjoy It While It Lasts. The balance of power depends on the sustainability of Kansas' rise - which is shaky - and the durability of Nebraska's sense of entitlement, at least where recruits are concerned; in that regard, the stockpiling of talent, the Huskers reasserted themselves under Bill Callahan after some really mediocre efforts on the trail by Frank Solich's staff. Missouri's recruiting has been a little better the last two years, but still just so-so - Pinkell hasn't brought in a class ranked higher than fifth in the Big 12 according to Rivals, which is roughly how his teams have usually fared. Missouri hasn't won in Lincoln since 1978, and its time at the top may only last as long as it takes Bo Pellini to slam the door.


Never leave me!
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Approximate Staying Power. As long as Daniel is quarterback, with a threat like Maclin around, the offense will purr. So at least one more year of the good life, generally. What separates Missouri at this moment from, say, Texas Tech, is that it might also field its best defense of the Pinkel era. Personnel-wise, the Tigers are set in the front seven, where four all-conference candidates are among six returning starters, and at safety, where William Moore projects on more than a few summer all-America teams if he returns from a spring injury at full speed. In the losses to Oklahoma, Mizzou gave up 41 points the first time and 38 in the Big 12 Championship. In the other eleven games, it was the stingiest in the league. If scoring is steady - it should be, based on personnel - those numbers only need to come down a little to make the Tigers legit mythical championship contenders. It could have been them, after all, rather than LSU, playing Ohio State if not for the flop against OU in St. Louis.

Beyond this fall, though, probably not much, not on elite level. Missouri's had good, productive quarterbacks before - Brad Smith, Corby Jones - and been thoroughly mediocre, anyway, because they had to handle everything themselves (Brock Olivo could squat the statehouse, but he was just an OK running back). The current supporting cast seems like an elite group because it has an elite quarterback who can get everyone involved. When Daniel is gone, there's no reason to expect any sustained fireworks on the order of last year's (and this year's, most likely). If the conference title drought doesn't meet its demise with the current group, there's no end in sight.