The University of Missouri starts the season with a huge upset of former Big 10 Champion Illinois. Then after stumbling around for a half, pastes the Ball State Cardinals, 41-6. Now it's on to the Big 12 Championship for Mizzou.
Whoa, Tiger. Slow down a little bit. As Gary Pinkel (and all coaches for that matter) likes to say, "One game at a time." Yes, MU has shown the ability to play well against good teams. Yes, the Tigers have shown the ability to thoroughly outplay a slightly weaker team. But before we bet the ranch with the local bookie, let's really look at what we have done, what we could do, and what to expect for the 2002 season.
Very few Tiger fans expected us to look down the last year's Big 10 champs, much less win the stare-down, but that's what happened Aug 28th in the Dome in St. Louis. The Tigers made several mistakes in that game, and the Illini made their fare share as well. Overcoming their mistakes is a distinction that went to MU as the Tigers won 33-20. The difference was Brad Smith.
Fast-forward one week, and once again Mizzou makes several mistakes against Ball State. Sloppy blocking (run blocking in particular) in the first half, and an abysmal running game, coupled with a hesitant passing quarterback and suddenly this years Tigers look much like past years. Unlike past years Mizzou responded well in the 2nd half. The Cardinal responded by making even more mistakes, 4 fumbles, and an interception. MU wins, 41-6. The difference was Brad Smith.
The common denominator in each of the first two games is that Mizzou made plenty of mistakes. Mistakes, which in any of the past three seasons (and numerous seasons in the past twenty years), would have knocked the Tigers from their foundation. This is a credit not only to the team, but also to their leader, Coach Gary Pinkel. Players feed off their leaders, and Coach Pinkel (and to some extent Brad Smith), have shown these young Tigers will not back down. It is obvious that MU players have bought into Coach Pinkel's plan, which means success (and in this case I think lasting success as I don't think Pinkel will leave for many years) is possibly just around the corner. Could this be the year that we talk about in the future as the year the Missouri Tiger football program turned the corner into being an annual power to be reckoned with? It is very possible. Personally, I think if we keep Brad Smith healthy it will be.
Things to look up for:
Two major things to look for in the upcoming games, will be adversity. Getting behind a lesser opponent and finding a way to win late(that could come in either of the next two weeks), and knocking of an opponent which is regarded as better than us (yes, we did do that with Illinois, but some will discard that as "It was a big rivalry game," or "It was the first game and the Illini weren't ready.") Another upset (mild or spicy hot) will continue the maturation of this team.
Things to look out for:
What many typical college football fans don't realize that is that most teams are a few breaks away from winning, and or losing each and every game they play. (The exception is KU and Baylor who usually need more than "a few good breaks")
Teams such as Ball State, Bowling Green, and Troy State have the ability to beat Mizzou (did anybody notice the score at halftime?). The key is to turn their mistakes into points.
I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but the only team on the MU schedule which is inferior is KU. No, Not Ball State, not Bowling Green, not Troy State. Yes, MU is a shade or two better, but in college football to be a prohibitive favorite, it takes more than a shade or two, and even prohibitive favorites are subject to upsets.
Let's face it, if Ball State hangs onto the ball (4 fumbles), and that game Saturday is MUCH, MUCH tighter. Big plays, AND CAPITALIZING ON THEM makes or breaks a team and a program [just ask Bob Stull, we upset Arizona State, we go toe-to-toe with Colorado and if not for TWO bad breaks (the QB never scored on 5th Down) we never even see Larry Smith on the MU campus as the MU program suddenly gets the recruits we need, and some Big 12 momentum].
Baloney? MU should beat a Ball State, Bowling Green, and Troy State every time we play them? Hmmm, NO. What many fans don't understand about college football, is that with the parity in college football today, it is much more a mind game than ever before. If you don't quit on yourself and your team, if you always believe, and you are an average team in talent, you have a very good chance of being successful. That success hinges, however, on the self-belief that you can do what it takes to win. That success will bring you better recruits. Better recruits (along with development) bring you a be