The world has changed for Missouri football

You'd be hard pressed to find a team that finished below .500 last year that is attracting as much pre-season attention as the Missouri Tigers. True, the opening game victory over Illinois opened some eyes, and the close loss to Oklahoma drew national notice. However, Missouri's notority is primarily tied to one precocious redshirt sophomore!

Missouri has already shown up on Athlon's preseason top twenty five list. Rob Droege and AJ Ricker are receiving preseason nominations for offensive linemen honors. The new Field Turf is being installed at Faurot Field.

Very exciting stuff for a football program that hasn't had much to be excited about recently.

However, all eyes are pointing at one player on the Missouri roster...that player would, of course, be the mercurial quarterback Brad Smith.

Smith burst into the national spotlight early last season with his blend of timely running and controlled passing. Brad was the perfect quarterback for Gary Pinkel's "don't beat yourself with turnovers" offensive philosophy. Smith took care of the ball and played with an understanding that few redshirt freshmen display in their first year.

Brad Smith also set the tone for the rest of the team in the weightroom and the filmroom. Smith brought a quiet leadership and determination to the program that was desperately lacking.

Brad Smith was an answer to Missouri's prayers.

Now, Smith and the Tigers approach a 2003 season where expectations are no longer limited to gradual improvement...national services and publications are predicting eight to nine wins and bowl games for these Tigers.

Defensive coordinators will no longer concern themselves with departed wide receiver Justin Gage. Now, stopping Brad Smith will be the object of every opponent's gameplan.

The challenge for Mizzou will be to take full advantage of Smith's fame and get the ball to their other offensive weapons while attention is focused on Brad.

The strength of Missouri's team this season should be their offensive line. The starting five is very good, and excellent young backups wait in the wings. This line should provide starting tailback Zach Abron plenty of opportunities to become Missouri's career leading rusher.

While Gage will be missed, his absence will allow other receivers to see more passes, such as Thompson Omboga, Sean Coffey and Darius Outlaw.

And then the offense's "X Factor" will be the health of all-world prep running back Damien Nash. If Nash's knee is close to healed, Missouri will have a weapon the likes of which they haven't had for the past 25 years. A healthy Nash is the type of running back who can take over games.

Yes, these are heady times in Columbia, Missouri. It's time to start having fun again, Missouri fans. You have an offense that will pressure every opponent. If the Tigers improve at all on defense, Missouri will make the football preview publications look very bright indeed.

Black & Gold Illustrated Top Stories