Mizzou 25! (Part Two)

It's Mizzou 25, the tournament to decide the best, most influential, most likable Mizzou athlete of the past 25 years!  It's like Who's Now or The Greatest Highlight, only, uhh, cool.  

Mizzou 25 is set up in four 8-athlete regions: the Norm Stewart Region (basketball), the Larry Smith Region (football), the Joann Rutherford Region (all sports), and the Spider Region (fan favorites).  Over the next month or so, we'll be setting up a poll a day to run through each regional, but first we have to finalize the participants.

Congrats to Arthur Johnson and comeback kid Jason Sutherland, who was in about fifth place before pulling off an evening charge to finish second and qualify for the Norm Stewart Regional.  That bracket is complete.

--

Today, we finalize the Larry Smith Region.  Here are six definite participants:

  1. Brock Olivo (1994-97)
  1. Corby Jones (1995-98)
  1. Justin Smith (1998-00)
  1. Brad Smith (2002-05)
  1. Martin Rucker (2004-07)
  1. Chase Daniel (2005-08)
  1. ?
  1. ?

Below is a poll to determine the final two participants.  It's a democracy!  You may select one from the list below (or select 'Other' and name your choice in the Comments section).  The top two will make the Larry Smith Region.

UPDATE, 1:26PM - I'm a freaking moron, and I forgot to put Devin West in the list below, even though he was on my list originally.  So I'm deleting the poll and starting it again.  I rule.

Click 'Full Story' for the nominees.

(I almost put Jeremy Maclin in here, but I don't want to jinx him.)

John Clay (1983-86): A three-time all-Big 8 offensive lineman, he was almost certainly Mizzou's best player of the 1980s.  He cleared the way for a lot of average QBs and below-average RBs, but that shouldn't take anything away from him--he was good enough that he was noticed and voted all-conference anyway.

Jeff Handy (1991-94): A product of Blue Springs High School, Handy came around about 15 years too early.  If Handy would have had the weapons (and defense) of the current Tigers, he'd have been a household name.  Even with limited resources, though, Handy left school with 25 school passing records.  I actually found this solid Examiner interview with him if anybody's interested.

Victor Bailey (1990-92): Along with Kenny Holly and Linzy Collins, Bailey was the best, most explosive weapon at the disposal of QBs like Handy and Phil Johnson.  His 2,144 career receiving yards (in just three seasons after transferring from UTEP) were the most ever by a Tiger until Justin Gage came around.  Bailey threatened to have a solid NFL career, putting together 41 catches for 500+ yards in his rookie season as a Philadelphia Eagle, but that was about it for him, as he only caught another 21 balls the rest of his career.

Devin West (1995-98): Part of a four-headed rushing monster in the Mizzou backfield (along with Corby Jones, Brock Olivo, and Ernest Blackwell RIP), West was one step away from returning a kickoff for TD about 16 different times...but then came his senior season.  All I really need to say about 1998: 32 carries, 319 yards.

Rob Riti (1996-99): Of all the big, strong offensive linemen that came to play for Larry Smith in the mid-'90s, Riti was the strongest and, for that matter, the smartest.  In the debacle that was the 1999 season, Riti was almost perfect.  He was named to the 1999 Burger King Coaches' All-American Team despite the fact that he spent the season protecting Jim Dougherty and Kirk Farmer.  He also started one of the stranger streaks in Mizzou history--only 3 players have started a game at center in the last twelve freaking years--Riti, A.J. Ricker, and Adam Spieker.

Justin Gage (1999-02): The start of his career pissed off almost every Mizzou fan anywhere.  His redshirt was torn off in the fourth quarter of Game #9 of the 1999 season so he could split QB snaps with Jim Dougherty.  In fact, in his first game (against OU in Norman) he came back out after one series, and Dougherty came in and ran the option.  It was possibly the most pissed I've ever been at a Mizzou coach.  After that inauspicious beginning, Gage's career would somehow end with his becoming the greatest WR in Mizzou history.  He holds the school record for most catches in a game (16), season (82), and career (200), most yards in a game (236) and career (2,704), most career receiving TDs (18), and most consecutive games with a reception (34).  As Mizzou's offense gets more prolific, those records may fall (Jeremy Maclin sure has taken a good first step), but Gage was by far the most dangerous weapon in the dark era between Corby Jones and the emergence of Brad Smith.

Zack Abron (2000-03): He was slow, didn't run very smart, and fumbled an insane amount during his freshman season in 2000.  Three years later, he was Mizzou's all-time leading rusher.  He was the prototypical "bowling ball" running back, and he was amazing in his consistency.  He was never going to go off for a 200-yard game, but he'd get you 4-5 yards on every play (often more), he always fell forward, and after his freshman season, he never fumbled.  The Tigers very much missed his consistency in '04, falling to 5-6 with a stable of running backs that were definitely faster and more talented, but just weren't as good.

Brian Smith (2003-06): He was barely bigger than a strong safety, but he was fast and relentless, and while his career ended a few games too early after he broke his hip halfway through senior season, he still finished as Mizzou's all-time leading sackmaster.  It wasn't a coincidence that Mizzou's season crumbled in '06 after Smith got hurt.

William Moore (2005-08): He introduced himself to Mizzou fans in 2005, picking off a Bret Meyer pass against Iowa State and taking it to the house.  Two years later, he was absolutely everywhere.  His obliterating hit on Marlon Lucky set the tone for the defense's destruction of Nebraska.  His pick of Josh Freeman one minute into the KSU game set Mizzou up to take an immediate lead.  His pick of a Todd Reesing deep ball late in the 2nd quarter assured that Mizzou would go into halftime pitching a shut out.  And then there was the Cotton Bowl.  He almost had a pick six in the first quarter.  He forced a Felix Jones fumble on Arkansas' first big gain of the game.  He did have a pick six in the third quarter to officially ice the game.  He was everywhere, and he filled Mizzou fans with a fear that he was maybe a little too good and would be heading to the NFL Draft.  Fear not.  He's back for his senior year, and if he continues his incremental improvement for a fourth season, he'll be the best safety in college football.

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