Nobody is more ready for a winner than Missouri football fans. That much is clear to everybody....EVERYBODY who is involved with this program.
There is the inevitable initial excitement and renewed belief in the program that is generated by a new coaching staff. Especially a staff with a leader like Gary Pinkel.
Pinkel has said all the right things since joining the program late last year, and more importantly, has avoided saying any of the wrong things.
Pinkel has stressed that his approach has worked everywhere he's been. He has not make promises for the short run, only that his teams would be in shape, they would put forth effort, and that they would know exactly what he expected them to do.
Fast forward to end of recruiting season in February. Pinkel astounds the football world by salvaging a very respectable recruiting class, and even talked pivotal St. Louis recruits like Tyrone Roberson and A.J. Kincaide into changing their commitments from Illinois to Ol' Mizzou. Pinkel continues to impress everybody he comes in contact with with his sincerity and his intense level of commitment to this program.
Fast forward to the Black and Gold game, the final game of the Tigers first spring under Gary Pinkel. Pinkel fumes in Missouri new press box as he sees mistake after mistake being made on the field, especially on special teams. He is uncharacteristically animated as he watches his new players making mistakes that kill drives and lose ballgames in the fall.
Pinkel promises that the team will be in shape come fall, and that he will continue to stress the basics of his system:
- Turnovers kill you on Offense
- You have to attack, attack and attack some more on Defense
- Missouri must have the finest Special Teams in the land
Missouri's offense will try to limit turnovers this fall, they will attempt to bring a new attacking style to their defensive attack, and hope against hope, the Tigers will at least try to be respectable on special teams. Face it folks, Rome wasn't built in a day.
So, what is reasonable for Missouri fans to expect record-wise this year?
The 3-8 record from last season provides little guidance in answering that question. Missouri played some of the tough teams like Michigan State, Nebraska and Kansas State, pretty darn well and still lost each game. However, that same Missouri team was savaged by Clemson and Kansas.
Still, Justin Smith is the key loss off of last year's team, and there are several key additions this year. Taurus Ferguson has fit hand to glove as the defense's new outside safety on defense. The former running back star has looked like he was born to play that position in this defense.
Speaking of converted running backs, Dan Davis has been doing a great Justin Smith imitation recently running down ball carriers both in the backfield and deep in the secondary. Davis has come of age quickly on defense, and has taken to the challenge of a dramatic position switch with incredible ease.
The youngsters who were part of Pinkel's first recruiting class, are already exerting themselves. The early names that have risen to prominence include Coffey, Fredrickson, Omboga, Riccio and Kincaide.
And, oh yes, there's that lighter schedule this year. Missouri gets to start out with Bowling Green and Southwest Texas State, neither of which are expected to do much in their own conferences, let alone challenge a member of the Big 12. And the Tigers get the softer draw from the Big 12's Southern Division for another year in 2001.
What's reasonable? Certainly, the Tigers should win their first two games and beat Baylor and Oklahoma State. That gets us to a minimum of four wins and we haven't even mentioned Iowa State or Kansas yet.
Iowa State has improved as a program steadily over the past five years, but Mizzou gets them in Columbia this year...mark down a fifth victory.
Kansas doesn't figure to be any better than they were last year, and Terry Allen is on the hot seat in Lawrence. However, Missouri has played horribly against Kansas as of late...HORRIBLY! As much as I hate Kansas, I wouldn't claim victory in this matchup until I actually see it with my own eyes.
So where does that sixth potential win come from?
Colorado is perpetually overrated and hasn't shown much against anybody else other than Nebraska since Gary Barnett has arrived in Boulder. Missouri should have beaten the Buffs on the road last year, but fell short. The Tigers will beat Colorado at home this year to rack up win number six.
After that, every other game puts Missouri into the bonus round. It doesn't matter a whole lot where you play Nebraska, but they visit Columbia this year as does talent stockpile Texas. Missouri should play both teams well, but it would be a bit of a fan's stretch to predict victory in either contest at this point.
Michigan State is a decent program, but they're at home, and it's Pinkel's first road game with a lightly tested team. Advantage Spartans.
Kansas State on the road has produced eye-covering games over the past decade. I don't expect a blowout, but this looks like a long-shot give what we know about both teams right now.
Is there a Missouri fan alive that wouldn't turn handstands over 6-5 at this point? That would put Missouri in the Independence Bowl (at least), and would give Gary Pinkel even more clout as he and his staff scour the recruiting hotbeds this winter.
Yes indeed, 6-5 would look pretty nice at this point, and even with all of the changes, it looks attainable by those Tigers.