As the start of spring football approaches, the many questions surrounding Missouri in 2009 become even more apparent.
Gone is the record setting trio of Daniel, Maclin and Coffman; a group that helped lead the Tigers to national prominence the last two years.
A number of starters from last year's defense must be replaced as well, many of them NFL bound. The excitement of back to back ten win seasons is replaced by a feeling of uncertainty for the upcoming season.
New faces will inevitably fill the void left by arguably the best senior class Missouri has ever had. But, a new season without the familiar faces brings with it another crucial element for 2009: Opportunity.
The opportunity for young players to step in and establish themselves as contributors during spring practice was a point Gary Pinkel stressed in an interview with InsideMizzou.com.
"For players, it provides a great opportunity," he said. "We are fairly young, but that's exciting."
Mizzou will look to continue the momentum established by the successes of 2007 and 2008. But one question will surround the team during spring football: Will the Tigers go through a rebuilding process or will they simply reload and remain one of the top teams in the Big 12? Whether or not the Tigers can three-peat as Big 12 North champions will rest largely on the shoulders of unproven players.
Coach Pinkel is confident these players will respond.
"There are stars in the locker room nobody knows about," Pinkel said. "Nobody knew who Chase Coffman was when he came here. Chase Daniel was supposed to be decent but nobody expected him to be in the running for the Heisman. We will get a lot of answers by the end of spring ball."
Who can step in and fill the shoes of Chase Daniel is going to be something Missouri coaches, players and fans will all have their eyes on starting next week. Three quarterbacks will be competing for the chance to follow in Daniel's footsteps.
Blaine Gabbert may seem to have the edge because of his extra year of experience. Coach Pinkel, though, was quick to point out that Gabbert's experience will not be the deciding factor.
"The difference between Gabbert and the other guys is a half year," he said. "The young guys coming in now instead of the summer is huge. The player that earns the job will get it."
Whoever wins the starting job will be helped by the return of starting running back Derrick Washington and three starting offensive lineman.
Establishing the running game will substantially benefit whoever is at the helm. Playmakers also need to emerge at the wide receiver position to complement Jared Perry and Danario Alexander.
These factors should help make the transition to a new QB much smoother.
This is the most important spring camp since Gary Pinkel took over as head coach in 2001.
Many of the questions Tiger fans are asking will start to have answers. As the head coach pointed out, spring practice will be an opportunity for the whole team; an opportunity for young players to earn starting jobs and an opportunity for returning starters to take on a bigger role.
The Tigers have the potential to successfully defend their Big 12 North crown. Whether or not that potential will be realized in the form of a Big 12 Championship Game appearance remains to be seen.
One thing is for certain:
This writer is excited to see what the 2009 Missouri Tigers can do on the field throughout spring ball.