Big 12 Media Days Preview: Missouri

SAN ANTONIO – Life is good if you are Missouri head coach Gary Pinkel. Your team has been picked by the Big 12 media to win the North Division. You have plenty of returning talent on offense and it appears you have a chance to be better on the weaker side of the ball from a season ago with more experience and talent on defense, particularly up front.

The schedule looks very doable as far as winning the four non-conference games and launching into the Big 12 Conference with plenty of momentum.

"Well, I think that we lost some starters," started Pinkel in a summation of his squad. "Most of the players that are replacing the starters that we lost, five, six starters we lost, have played a lot or have started games. So I think we have more experience than what might appear. I think we're young in some of our back-up spots.

"But I think we've also got some talent. We run well. I think we've got some depth there. So I think that's certainly a concern. I think if you look at anybody that loses half their starters on the side of the football ... you look back and say possibly we have to see how that side comes along. And I'd agree with that. I think what's going to be key for our defense is obviously we're going to have to be pretty good as we open up with Illinois. And we gotta be good and fast, but I think what's going to be critical for our defense is our defense gets better every week. And I think that's going to be real important for us to achieve our goals.

"And I think there's that challenge," continued the Tigers coach. "From an offensive standpoint I wish we could score against anybody at any time. I think that was a little bit of an extreme statement. That's not the case or we probably would have gone undefeated. But I think for our offense we get most of our offense back, the challenge is going to be offensively can we reach the potential of the offense. I mean, can we reach our potential. And it's going to be very important that we're very unselfish. And if we can get those two things, then we've got a chance, I think, to potentially be a good football team."

The most impressive position for the Tigers is at tight end where they may have the two best of many talented players at that position. The Big 12 is a tight end-heavy league and Chase Coffman and Martin Rucker are at the head of the class.

"I think it's pretty unique what we have," said Pinkel of his jumbo pass catchers. "We have two of the best tight ends in the nation. I think because they're both 6-6, they both weigh 240, 250, they both have great speed. They can make plays. They're unselfish. And so I think that provides us with opportunities to do a lot of things. We can move them around on our offense, we can put them anywhere on the field and which allows us to utilize them in different ways.

"If Chase Daniel was here, he would tell you that those kind of targets are fun to throw the football to. The range these guys have. A lot of times we can put them in mismatches not necessarily speed all the time sometimes speed maybe on linebackers, but certainly size-wise. We have a way to move people around to do that. So I'm just glad we got them. One is a junior and one is a senior, and I'm glad we got them one more year and hopefully we can do good things with them."

He also has the trigger man and the true "Mr. Popularity" on the Missouri campus in quarterback Chase Daniel, a guy as popular with his teammates as he is virtually all the coeds on the Missouri campus. Pinkel is just trying to figure out what he can do to help Daniel be even better this season than he was last fall when he was starting for the very first time.

"I think that's the challenge," answered Pinkel. "I think the challenge ... I would suggest he had as good a year as any first-year starter maybe in the nation last year. I think he was a pretty good player. I felt when we signed him we had an absolutely outstanding player.

"I talked to him about the offense a moment ago, can we go to another level on offense? And in order to do that he's the one that distributes the football. And he's got a lot of people around him. A lot of people can make plays -- most everybody we had a year ago. And some of the freshmen are improving. So that's going to be the challenge. Can we say that at the end of the season that this offense has reached its potential and it's going to start with him.

"But he's an amazing young man," added Pinkel. "I've seen quarterbacks over the years. I've been fortunate to be around a lot of guys, several of which have played in the NFL, and I've never been around a guy like this guy. This guy, he's probably the best natural leader I've ever been around without a question. His work ethic, his quiet confidence has really been very, very impressive. So I know this, that he loves to play football. He loves game day. And it will be interesting to see what happens."

Pinkel knows his team has been picked to win the Big 12 North, and just as Nebraska 's Bill Callahan seemed perturbed by that when he was in San Antonio on Monday, Pinkel, while knowing it doesn't mean anything, seemed very proud of the fact on Tuesday. Pinkel is also more relaxed than ever, and thus more open. His player Martin Rucker said he has seen his coach progress and that he is more of a player's coach than ever before. As a result, he may get the best reward and results he has ever had as a head coach this season.

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