For: Missouri, From: Inside Mizzou

With all of the buildup of the holiday season, sometimes the whole present-buying thing gets lost in the shuffle. Fortunately, Inside Mizzou happened to remember at the last minute, so we present what we would like to give a few prominent members of the Missouri athletic department this year. As always, it's better to give than to receive.

For coach Gary Pinkel: Good wishes on the recruiting trail
After a year that was disappointing beyond description, Pinkel and his staff are hitting the recruiting trail hard, landing some of the Midwest's best talent along the way. This is quite an accomplishment after a 5-6 season, which ended with the departure of one of the offense's most talented players. Next season, Missouri should be able to, at the least, equal its 2004 mark, but another disappointing year could have wide-reaching ramifications, for Pinkel and the entire program.

For defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus: Recognition
Eberflus turned the weak link of the program into an overwhelming strength. Despite finishing below the .500 mark, the Tigers led the Big 12 in total defense, an achievement that seemed unfathomable before the season. The irony, of course, is that Missouri had its most disappointing season in a year that the defense, statistically, had its best in a long, long time. Defense does win championships, but so does timely offense. But that's not Eberflus' responsibility.

For offensive coordinator Dave Christensen: One more chance
With a dash of freedom in the offensive game plan. A stuffy offense that lacked creativity sank the Tiger ship this season, as quarterback Brad Smith had the worst season of his Missouri career. An inexperienced offensive line was an acceptable excuse early in the season, but by the second half of Big 12 play, that no longer worked. Despite staying healthy all season, the offense dramatically underperformed; much of the blame falls to Christensen for that. We hope he gets another chance to turn things around. He'll unlikely get another if he struggles again.

For wide receiver Thomson Omboga: Anything he likes
On a team full of players that make your eyes glaze over, Omboga was the go-to guy for those of us with tape recorders and television cameras. Always ready with an honest, insightful -- and often humorous -- quip, Omboga finished the year without a touchdown but made plenty of big plays during the weekly Monday media availability. We're going to miss him mightily.

For departed tailback Damien Nash: Peace of mind
Nash has left the program, but he still deserves something. Despite being suspended for saying what everybody on the offense was thinking, Nash dealt with two talented freshmen nipping at his heals and finished with a productive junior season. Wherever he ends up, we hope Nash finds fulfillment.

For cornerback Shirdonya Mitchell: A chance to play on Sundays
Mitchell had a fantastic senior season, especially given his limited experience in the secondary. Mitchell proved to be one of several big play threats in the defensive backfield and has the speed to play in the NFL. It's unlikely he'll be drafted, but Mitchell deserves a shot.

For quarterback Brad Smith: A return to the good old days
No, Smith did not have his best season in 2003, but he continued to handle himself with class, setting school records along the way. Smith will hold nearly every important Missouri offensive mark when he finishes his career around this time next year, but it's easy to take his talent for granted. Here's hoping Smith turns that around with a run at the Heisman next year.

For the future of the quarterback position: Nothing
This group is blessed enough as it is. With Chase Patton already in Columbia, Chase Daniel is on his way, enticing other recruits along the way. Daniel won a Texas state championship last weekend and has designs on grabbing a national title in mid-Missouri. A lofty goal, for sure, but these two are the kind of players capable of leading the Tigers close to that mark.

For New Mexico and Troy: Bowl wins
New Mexico faces Navy in the Emerald Bowl and Troy faces Northern Illinois in the Silicon Valley Football Classic on Dec. 30. Both also make trips to Columbia next season. A weak nonconference schedule suddenly looks somewhat imposing; bowl wins for these teams would let the excuses flow more easily if the Tigers stumble to one of them next year.

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For coach Quin Snyder: A win against Gonzaga
The Tigers gave Snyder an early Christmas present by playing their most inspired basketball of the season in the second half against Illinois. The result may have been disappointing, but there was plenty to build on. With a growing team, here's hoping Snyder can fashion this group into a winner against the Zags next week and a consistent contender once conference play opens next week.

For Jay Spoonhour: A head coaching job
In case you've forgotten, Spoonhour coached UNLV late last season, after his father abruptly resigned. Spoonhour has the experience and talent to grab a mid-level coaching gig, but he chose to return to Missouri to be a junior member of the coaching staff. He'll be snapped up by somebody soon.

For guard Jason Conley: Something to aim for
Conley has looked lost much of the past month, struggling to score and often finding himself on the bench with foul trouble. This is the same player that led the country in scoring just four seasons ago, so the talent is there. Missouri doesn't need him to score boatloads of points; if he can get more involved in the offense and play consistent defense, Conley will provide more than enough

For guard Jimmy McKinney: Respect
McKinney has given everything the Missouri program has asked of him, but he is still perceived as a disappointment by many. McKinney has not become the big-time scoring threat that some expected, but he has played everywhere in the backcourt, even though he doesn't feel comfortable running the point. McKinney is the Tigers' most clutch shooter and will likely make some big plays down the stretch. We hope he gets the recognition he deserves.

For forward Kevin Young: A few lucky bounces
Young is a beast on the offensive glass and a solid defender, but he just doesn't have the scoring touch to be a starter in the Big 12. Young fails to convert from within five feet too often, but he is a symbol of strength in the middle. Every basket he scores pumps up the other four Tigers on the floor, so we'd like to see Young get a lucky roll or two per game the rest of the season.

For forward Jeffrey Ferguson and guard Spencer Laurie: Good health
Laurie continues to struggle with a high ankle sprain, while Ferguson is out until February after having surgery on his right knee a week ago. Both players provide much-needed depth for this young Missouri squad.

For guard Thomas Gardner: Consistency
Gardner is the Tigers' purest shooter, but when the shot doesn't fall, he can look lost on the floor. Gardner is contributing more consistently on the defensive end, but that should be a given. We'd like to see Gardner hit an early 3-pointer in the majority of the Tigers' games, giving Gardner extra confidence in his shot.

For forward Linas Kleiza: More touches
Over the past week, Kleiza has proved why every power program in the country wanted him out of high school. Kleiza can be a force all over the court and single-handedly kept the Tigers in the Illinois game. He won't score 25 points every game, but there's no reason why he can't hover around the 19- or 20-point mark. Having found more consistency from the free-throw line, the only thing that can stop Kleiza right now is himself.

For guard Jason Horton: The faith of the coaching staff
Horton has grown in leaps and bounds over the past few weeks, emerging as a consistent contributor at point guard. He passed the test presented to him by Illinois' Dee Brown and Deron Williams, more than holding his own and hitting some big shots late in the game. With Laurie still sidelined, Horton has played the best basketball of his young Missouri career. Here's hoping the upswing continues.

For forward Kalen Grimes: More playing time
With the lack of inside presence among the Tigers' other bigs, it makes perfect sense for Grimes to get more playing time. He has added enthusiasm and energy in this brief time this season, but it's difficult to do that on the bench. Grimes will get more playing time as the season evolves, but here's hoping he gets it sooner rather than later.

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For the Missouri wrestling program: Recognition
Coach Brian Smith's wrestlers, as a unit, have performed the best of anyone in the Missouri athletic department. The Tigers were a fall away from an individual national championship two seasons ago, and the Tigers have risen to a top 15 ranking in a remarkably difficult Big 12. Fans who want to see emotion from their student-athletes should stop in and see these Tigers.

For Mizzou Arena: A stuffed stocking
Better views in the lower section of the upper deck: The clear plastic dividers make sense, but the black tops don't. They need to be fixed now, but it doesn't look like that will happen.

More butts in the seats: Fewer than 11,000 for Arkansas? Fewer than 10,000 for Indiana? Come on.

Better parking: Possibly the reason for the above problem. With as nasty as mid-Missouri winters can be, the last thing we need is fans making longer-than-necessary walks from their cars to the arena.

The return of free food in the media workroom: Oops. This gift is actually for me. My mistake.

For Chad Moller, Sam Fleury, Kevin Fletcher and the rest of the Missouri media relations staff: Something good to happen
As representatives of the athletic department, these guys have to deal with everything that has happened in the past year. And, overwhelming, most of it was bad. But that's why they make the big bucks. Here's hoping things turn around and these jobs become a little more rewarding over the next year.

For InsideMizzou readers: Happy and healthy holiday greetings
This might not have been the most enjoyable year to be a Missouri fan, but, mercifully, 2004 is nearing an end. The Tigers couldn't provide an early Christmas present by grabbing Braggin' Rights on Wednesday, but there was plenty to feel good about.

Here's hoping a happy Christmas becomes a healthy new year, one that includes plenty of visits to InsideMizzou.com.


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