The 2013 Missouri football season began around 7:30 p.m. on November 24. 2012. At that point, with the game, and 2012 season, statistically over, this year's juniors became next year's seniors. And to their credit, in an otherwise terribly frustrating evening, they responded. They didn't have to -- they could have taken a 73-0 loss (almost 20 years since the last one in College Station), and nobody would have blinked at that point -- but they did.
QB James Franklin
WR Marcus Lucas
WR L'Damian Washington
WR Jaleel Clark
WR Kerwin Stricker
TE Eric Waters
OT Justin Britt
OG Max Copeland
DE Michael Sam
DE Brayden Burnett
DT Marvin Foster
LB Andrew Wilson
LB Donovan Bonner
CB E.J. Gaines
CB Randy Ponder
S Matt White
Barring any sort of transfer or quitting of football, those are your 16 scholarship seniors for next year. We don't officially know who the head coach will be (though it will almost certainly be Gary Pinkel), we don't definitively know if there will be staff changes (Pinkel says no, at least he did before yesterday), we don't know who Mizzou will sign in this coming recruiting class. But we know those are the seniors. Throw in Dorial Green-Beckham, the blue-chipper (next year's Sheldon Richardson, who preferably continues to go to class and doesn't screw his team over at the most inopportune possible time), and this team's leadership is pretty much set moving forward.
We know that, if Mizzou undergoes a serious rebound in the offseason, that rebound will take place with these players leading the way in the locker room, in the weight room, and on the practice field. And though their first test was mostly meaningless -- that's the only way to describe a "comeback" attempt that began with their team down, 42-0 -- they still passed it to some degree.
There was L'Damian Washington, catching a 74-yard touchdown pass in the third quarter.
There was E.J. Gaines, breaking up a rather tacky throwback pass to Johnny Manziel in the third quarter (because Mizzou clearly hadn't already provided him with plenty of Heisman highlights in the first half), then intercepting Manziel later in the quarter.
There was DGB, catching a 28-yarder to set up the first touchdown, then scoring on a 25-yarder in the fourth quarter.
There was Michael Sam, continuing to chase Manziel, mostly in vain (if you look back at Manziel's best plays of the night -- and I don't recommend you do -- you'll see Sam coming this close on basically every play), when general decorum and stupid pride would have allowed him to stop a couple of hours earlier.
There was Andrew Wilson, joining in on tackle after tackle.
There was Marcus Lucas, atoning for an early fumble and taking shots over the middle (and holding onto the ball).
This team has issues moving forward. Clearly. While I am semi-confident in the run defense going forward, next year's pass defense, with a pass rush that vanished these last few weeks and a potentially thin corps of cornerbacks, terrifies me. And while the offensive line will be infinitely more experienced next season, it barely improved, if at all, in November, when the lineup at least remained stable (if obviously still thinned out). Poor Max Copeland, one of the aforementioned 2013 seniors, had an absolute nightmare of a night facing off against A&M's Spencer Nealy, and defenses were consistently able to find an often open pathway to the backfield up the soft middle of the line. Experience is wonderful, but so is talent. We know Mizzou will have the former, and we have no idea about the latter yet. And, of course, we have no idea about the quarterback situation.
But through all of the unknowns ahead, we know who the leaders of the team will be. And they at least showed us something last night, even when they had a pretty good excuse for not doing so. Things did not work out the way this year's seniors thought it would, and there's nothing saying it will be different next year, but if you're looking for any sort of bright spots on the morning after Mizzou's season ended really, really early, there you go.
In the coming days, we will begin the 2012 season post-mortem and officially flip the switch to basketball season. (Like, literally, there is a switch I flip to change all of the auto-taggers from football to basketball.) We'll talk about 2013's strengths and weaknesses, we'll talk about the Don James Funk, we'll talk about how new rivalries are (or aren't) coming along, we'll talk about second-year adjustments in a new conference … and if I feel up to it, we might even talk about quarterbacks.
Rock M Nation officially came online right before the 2007 Nebraska game. For a long time, we were really, really lucky. We took part in the 2007 football run, the silly 2008 offense, the 2009 Elite Eight run, the 2010 football bounceback season, the 2012 basketball run. We did get to deal with Athenagate, but for the most part we've seen steady football success and some serious basketball highs. This is the first time we've been forced to deal with a disappointing season at this level. Hopefully it's not a trend, but right now I'll just remind you of this: You are a Mizzou fan for reasons that go beyond wins and losses. At Rock M, we have always tried to provide the healthiest possible fan experience, holding onto the good as long as possible and discarding the bad feelings as soon as we can. That isn't always an immediate process -- it's not like there's a switch to flip for forgetting the last eight days of football and ignoring the growing tension in the Mike Dixon saga -- but we're going to do our best to keep this place as healthy as possible. Of course, that depends on you guys, too. Let's try to have some fun whether the team gives us a reason to or not.