Today, we have Dave Matter, football writer for the Columbia Daily Tribune, Justin Jarrett, football writer for the Columbia Missourian and Bob Ballou, sports anchor for KOMU/Channel 8 in Columbia.
1) Obviously, Brad Smith is the offensive MVP so far. Who do you think leads the defense at this point?
MATTER: There's been a few nice individual performance in games (Mike Harden & Nino Williams vs. Illinois, Brian Smith vs. Ball State), but no one has been consistent enough week to week to really merit an honor. I'd vote for Brad Smith. His heroics against Middle Tennessee State bailed out the defense after its dismal day.
BALLOU: Certainly the defense has had its moments - both good and bad. Allowing 40 points to MTSU was awful, in every sense of the word, something they know and willingly admit. As far as an MVP, James Kinney is a candidate, leading the team in tackles. Brian Smith is a candidate, already with six sacks and three forced fumbles, and so is C.J. Mosley, who has been impressive with 18 tackles, five and a half for loss, and 3 sacks.
But because no one player has stood out yet, I'd have to go with a three-shot tandem of Michael Harden (22 tackles, INT, forced fumble), Jason Simpson (21 tackes, 2 for loss, fumble recovery), and Brandon Barnes (40 tackles, sack, fumble recovery). Those three have seemingly held this defense together. Is it too obvious that I don't think anyone deserves this award yet?
JARRETT: Michael Harden is tough to beat. After the MTSU game, though, it's hard to call anyone on the defense an MVP. I think Dedrick Harrington is well on his way to being a star, and by the end of the year he might be the MVP of the defense.
2) Do you think MU's kicking game will lose the team a game this season?
BALLOU: No. Though this situation is as scary as any I've seen, I honestly don't think it will happen. Maybe that's just a gut-instinct reaction, but I think Mike Matheny's kick against MTSU has given him a little more confidence and he'll be okay from here on out.
JARRETT: Probably, but Mike Matheny's gut check against MTSU was pretty impressive. Pinkel's right when he says most people wouldn't have been able to make that kick.
MATTER: The kicking game is much improved. The problem is the actual kickers. Matheny seems to get in a rut after a bad kick, and he lets it affect him the rest of the game. Brock Harvey has slipped toward mediocrity since a strong performance against Illinois.
3) Many of you have been covering this team for many years. Is there a bigger game than Missouri-Kansas?
JARRETT: Not for anyone involved, but in football, I'd have to say there have been a few bigger rivalries over the years. It's been so long since this game meant anything beyond MU-KU that it's hard to see it having much importance from a national standpoint.
MATTER: I think the players go along with the fanfare of the MU-KU game, but it doesn't create the same passion as the basketball series. This year is a little different since Kansas seems to be improving, at least offensively. But secretly, I think a lot of players get more excited playing Nebraska, Oklahoma and Kansas State. That's when you really find out how good you are.
BALLOU: According to Gary Pinkel, no. This is the biggest game of the year every year. They mark it, highlight it, put it in red, countdown the days - all of it. This is the biggest game of the year simply because Gary Pinkel says so. To the fans, though, when a ranked team plays Missouri, it seems to be of a different magnitude. For instance, let's say Kansas and Nebraska played here this year. Do you really think you'd draw more fans for Kansas than a top-10 ranked Nebrsaka team they haven't beaten since '78? I don't think so - and until they get that monkey off of their back, I think fans consider the Nebraska game a bigger one. Or any ranked team, for that matter.
4) Right now, is Brad Smith more valuable to his team than Corby Jones was in 1997 and 1998?
MATTER: It's hard to say because Jones was so instrumental in MU's success from '96-98. He was tough and fearless, bordering on cocky. And that attitude really carried over to his teammates. But with his passing ability, Smith has a better chance to lead fourth-quarter comebacks, like he's done twice this season. But he's a lot like Jones in that they seem to will their team to success at times. Smith has a quality tailback in Abron, but Jones had an all-conference back in Devin West. It's a tough call, but I'd vote for Smith solely based on his passing skills. I've always thought, though, that Jones doesn't get nearly the amount of credit he deserves. His No. 7 should be next to Olivo's 27.
BALLOU: Without either of them, their teams obviously aren't as good. If Corby goes down in '97 or '98, who steps in? Ryan Douglass? Douglass wasn't as good as Sonny Riccio. So that makes Corby more valuable to his team. Does that mean Corby was better? No. Brad Smith is more valuable because he has what Gary Pinkel calls "it" - like I believe no one has seen. He's just got "it" - and most of the time, you can't explain "it". You just have to watch it happen.
JARRETT: I think so, if for no other reason than recruiting and national attention. Jones was extremely important to his team, but he never gained the kind of fame and national spotlight Smith is getting. Also, Jones had a dominant running back in Devin West. Zack Abron isn't quite at the same level.
5) Do you think the defense needed a good scare like the one it got last Saturday?
BALLOU: Maybe in this stage of the developmental process of the program, yes. It'll help them realize they aren't as good as everyone was telling them. But let's get one thing straight - you don't ever, ever want that to happen - and once (if) this team becomes a consistent top-25 team, it shouldn't happen.
JARRETT: Absolutely. This defense has a lot of talent, but not enough to slack off in preparation. Some of the new guys needed to be beaten down a little so they could understand where the older players were coming from. We'll see if the defense can bounce back Saturday.
MATTER: I don't buy the "defense needs a good scare" argument. If the defense plays better against Kansas will it be because it was hammered last week? I doubt it. As long as they tackle well, improve their adjustments on the field and react rather than get caught thinking so much, they'll have better results. I hate to sound like Pinkel, but these games are all about preparation and matchups. When you're caught thinking about past mistakes is when Bill Whittemore sprints by you for a touchdown on third-and-long. Just tackle someone.