James Franklin: Gary Pinkel's latest lump of clay.
So as you may have begun to catch on, there is not going to be a 2011 Missouri Football Preview this year. We kept trying to make it happen, first as a magazine for purchasing in July, then as a free PDF download for release in mid-August, and we even got pretty far on quite a few pieces. But between my extra writing duties (and baby preparation) and Ross' successful search for full-time employment, we simply ran out of time. We officially admitted defeat last night. I really wish it had worked out, and I hate that our, uh, streak ends at one year, but we had to acknowledge that it wasn't going to happen this year. Who knows what the future holds, but hopefully it comes back next year. We'll see.
The upside to that is simple: we now have some pretty good, pre-written, mostly-finished content for Rock M. This includes some updated position walkthroughs, opponent previews and guest columns. We'll be unveiling these over the next month or so. Here's your first taste of what's in store, a column from The Trib's great Dave Matter, always a friend to Rock M Nation. Enjoy.
Frequently Asked Questions (And Tall Journalists)
By Dave Matter
Will Gary Pinkel ever go under center?
Do the gold helmets really exist?
When is Missouri going to play Notre Dame?
You're shorter than you look in the paper.
Folks have asked me those questions countless times over the years, and even though the last one is more a statement than question I can't help but include it, because, yes, I've heard it from loyal readers who are stunned by the sight of a 5-foot-8 sportswriter whose newspaper mug shot apparently inspires visions of Mark Eaton.
But between the months of April and September, most fans I encounter, whether online or at the grocery store, have only one question on their minds: "So, what do you think about the Tigers this season?"
By June, I've subconsciously come up with a routine answer that goes something like this: "Well, I was impressed with _____ during spring practices but I'll be interested to see what happens with _____. Bottom line, it's going to come down to _________. Should be interesting."
Truth is, you can watch every practice, analyze every position, interview every coach and player, but getting a read on any college football team is at best an adventure in wild guesswork. That's what makes the summer months so torturous for college football fans: Until August, there's nothing more to consume — except the writer who's ranking the top 10 offensive guards in the Big 12 only so that his boss thinks he's too busy to cover tomorrow's Show-Me State Games badminton tournament.
So, as I write this in early July and the start of preseason practices are still a month away, let's get to that question with an exercise I call Purging the Brain. Here's everything I think about the 2011 Tigers — in 500 words.
Pinkel has figured out this quarterback thing. Everything offensive coordinator David Yost knows about coaching quarterbacks he learned from Pinkel, so logic follows that he’ll take his latest lump of clay, sophomore James Franklin, and mold another record-setting passer.
On the other hand … for being a top-10 NFL draft pick, Blaine Gabbert didn’t exactly leave Missouri with a sterling legacy. Division titles: zero. Wins over Nebraska: zero. Bowl victories: zero. Yes, he beat Oklahoma and swept North patsies Kansas, Kansas State, Iowa State and Colorado, but for all the Gabbert hype and promise, the passing game took a step backward once Chase Daniel graduated. Maybe Yost doesn't have the magic touch after all.
On the other hand … if Gabbert underachieved last year — and his passing numbers say he did — then it stands to figure that Franklin doesn’t have to be a superstar to match last year's production at the QB position. He doesn’t have to cut the figure of a prototype NFL quarterback to eclipse Gabbert’s standard. Instead, he should start by completing 60 percent of his passes in Big 12 games and go from there. On third downs last season, Gabbert was the Big 12's least efficient and least accurate passer, finishing out of the top 100 nationally in both categories. Franklin will really have to struggle to be less effective on the crucial downs.
On the other hand …won five games his first season as a starter. Daniel won eight. Gabbert won eight. There were great moments during each of their first years behind center, but maybe it's best we temper the expectations for Franklin this fall.
On the other hand … here’s the best reason for a glass half-full perspective on Franklin and 2011: Missouri has a defense. It might have the best defense in Pinkel’s 11 years at Missouri. It might have the best defense in the Big 12. Franklin shouldn’t have to win games on his own for the Tigers to challenge for the conference title and beyond. Actually, that was the case for Gabbert last year, too. He was outstanding in MU’s two biggest wins of the season — against Texas A&M and Oklahoma — but you can make a strong case that MU's defense and offensive line won those games, respectively.
On the other hand … what if the defense is overrated? Last seen, a backup freshman running back from Iowa trampled through the tackles as his offensive line dominated the Tigers in the trenches. Nebraska and Texas Tech also outslugged MU’s defensive front.
On the other hand … all that damage was done with nose tackle Dominique Hamilton and Luke Lambert injured and out of the lineup, along with Will Ebner hobbling around on one foot and a bad neck. Plus, if and when Sheldon Richardson actually plays a down for the Tigers, they'll gladly employ college football's first ever 1-2-8 defense to handle those pass-happy teams from Oklahoma.
Bottom line, there's a lot to like about the 2011 Tigers. I think.
And there's nothing short about 5-8. I know.