After a positive reception to my initial post after week one, I thought I would give this another whirl in week two, and hopefully folks enjoy it. I welcome any feedback on any of the thoughts expressed, as I enjoy discussing college football and college sports in general.
Much like last week, my "ten thoughts" will be divided into thoughts about Mizzou and college football as a whole, with one basketball thought thrown in. I hope you enjoy.
1. Mizzou gets a hard fought win...against a good team. Yesterday during the first half, as I often do to my vantage point from LL, I was checking a couple Missouri message boards on my phone, just gauging what the fan reaction was to the fact the contest was closer at that point than many would like it. I saw the typical emotion-filled stuff, and had to smile a bit. I think folks had much of the staff fired by halftime.
While indeed, the close margin was perhaps a bit worrisome (I was more concerned when it was one point again in the 3rd), the fact is that Toledo is a good team that wasn't just going to melt away in the afternoon heat, and they will likely be a good team throughout the year. Much like North Dakota State and Eastern Washington of the FCS are as good or better than significant portions of the FBS, the best teams of the non-BCS leagues can compete with teams from the BCS leagues. Most, in the end, will end up losing, but it did not surprise me that Toledo held with us for quite a while. It's fair to say we are, at best, mid-tier SEC, so the fact the game was about where the spread was (would have just beat it had Pinkel not sat on the ball in the last 5 minutes) is not concerning to me at all.
Now, there were concerns within the game --- our running backs didn't produce the yardage I'd like to see (though Franklin made up for it), the defense was not where it should be, and special teams are deeply concerning. I'll add in a concern with the "backup QB gets a series at the start of the 2nd Quarter" idea that Pinkel seems married to but I find a bit strange. But there are also positives to take away from it - the team was challenged a couple times and didn't fold but in fact responded, we moved the ball well generally, and I thought we looked pretty good overall in what was a game that did have its share of adversity.
2. Franklin is an above average quarterback. I think due to last year's injury and "pain reliever" issues and the fact that his era will involve our transition to the more difficult SEC, I think sometimes Franklin is hard to judge by some fans. In thinking about him versus other quarterbacks in our history, Franklin may be one of those we look back on with more favorability in the future than perhaps some fans few him now. He is certainly far from perfect, but I really trust him with the ball. His passing ability is quality, his agility allows him to create, and his size allows him to barrel ahead for important yardage (at critical times, often) that other QBs might not be able to gain. Maybe he smiles a bit too much for some folks compared to other football players, but I think any notion the guy is soft is ridiculous. I really like Franklin and hope this season is a winning one, for his sake. If we get to 7 wins+ and a bowl, I think history will judge him well.
3. Attendance is a concern, but not a huge concern. Saturday was a blazer, to be sure, so I'm not incredibly concerned about the fact the crowd was lighter even as the game was quite competitive throughout. In some respects, I do think it shows the second layer (beyond the first 35 or 40K or so that was there through thick and thin even in awful years) of fans who regularly attend games are a bit "fair weather", but it is hard to criticize fans for seeking cooler shelter yesterday. Anecdotal evidence of who was leaving: In my section, about 1/3 - 1/2 left from what was there in the first quarter, and my observation was that those that did involved mostly families with smaller kids who got hot or older folks were truly getting uncomfortable. It's hard to criticize that.
However, I do think it is something to watch - as I think the 56K crowd plus the folks who left mid-game due to heat does show an underlying softness to our fan base. As I noted, my sense is that we have about 35-40K really dedicated fans, perhaps that's expanded a bit in the last 10 years to about 40-45K.. But, beyond that, I see a bunch of folks who I would term "there, but casual" -- Mizzou games are something to do on the weekends, if you can fit it in and if it's popular to do. That's not a criticism, mind you, but it is something that we need to be mindful of as we progress in this new conference and develop policies and initiatives related to game experience -- price, atmosphere, and the like.
One of my concerns upon entering the SEC and the desire to expand the stadium (something I favor) is that while sellouts would indeed occur for games against Georgia, Alabama, LSU, we'd see, particularly in years where the team is about average or even slightly above, no discernible difference between the Big 12 era and the SEC era for games against non-cons like Toledo and even conference games against teams like Vanderbilt, Kentucky, and Mississippi State. This may seem contrary to that concern, but this is actually why I do continue to favor the expansion -- not just for the revenue of the suites, but because as TSF requires donations for the entire lower bowl save the end zones, we need sections that the average fan who hasn't donated yet or can't afford a donation can get into, and perhaps where the tickets themselves are cheaper. Affordability is an issue in a competitive entertainment environment, particularly when you can stay home and watch it on HD (games like this may not have even been televised just a few seasons back). It's only through embracing that "casual fan" we will ever get to a point we can consistently fill or nearly fill a 70-80K stadium. Hopefully the east side deck and the south end zone expansion (if approved in the future) facilitate that, and hopefully it is kept affordable and donation-requirement free. However, I can't imagine what it would have felt like a few dozen feet closer to the sun yesterday!
A quick note on the overall subject of "atmosphere", which I'll expand more on next week given we're not playing -- and that's the issue of the "Truman's Landing" and RV issue that I sense is simmering quite hotly. I think there are some concerns here and Mizzou will need to address these or lose something I think is special about not only Mizzou's gameday experience, but about college football as a whole.
4. Will the Tigers bloom in Bloomington? Our next game, of course, is a critical road test at the Indiana Hoosiers. I think while most of us felt both Toledo and Arkansas State were potential threats, the key game among the first four was the road game at Indiana. This was magnified after week 1, when the Hoosiers put 73 on the Indiana State Sycamores. While any game is notable, that wasn't enough for me to judge the degree to which Indiana was a threat to beat us. Indeed, Indiana followed up their week 1 win with a home loss to Navy. I did not get a chance to watch it, but I hope it is replayed this week on the Big Ten Network. However, my initial review of the box score, as well as their first game, shows that they are indeed an offensive threat -- 73 last week, 35 this week -- but that their defense -- now giving up 76 points in two games -- gives us a chance to outgun them. I encourage folks to watch next week's tilt between Indiana and an emerging Bowling Green squad who got a few AP Votes and has two nice victories vs. Tulsa and Kent State. I would be surprised if that game were not quite close. Meanwhile, we have two weeks to prepare. My gut tells me the Tigers win a shootout, something like 45-31, but want to watch more from the Hoosiers first.
5. I want Devin Booker. Here's your basketball thought for the week -- I admit, though I am a member of PowerMizzou, I do not intensely follow recruiting as much as others do. I'm generally aware of how we're doing and all, but I don't really get into tracking how we're doing with individual targets. I just don't have the time and generally more focus on who we have after we have them. The one exception to this, however, is Devin Booker. With Mizzou's hoops program on the ascendancy in what is a very winnable basketball conference, I sense that this program is truly on the cusp of being not just good, but great. To me, one of the key steps in making that good-to-great step (second only to actually winning post season games - take note, Coach!) is signing a program namesake like Devin Booker. It is my view that since about the 95 season, there has been an uncertainty between the fan base and the basketball program. We still love them, we still follow them, but it's simply my opinion there has not been that connection like there between, say, 1976 and 1995. Much of this is due to the coaches, some of it is due to being disappointed too many times, but someone like Booker can really be transformative in that respect, assuming that is followed by Top 15 finishes in the rankings and deep post season runs. I think Booker himself would bring larger crowds and perhaps bring back the fan who isn't sure about spending the money to attend basketball games but still follows them and fondly remembers the 80's and early 90's. I am not one who loses sleep over whether or not we sign someone nor do I get all upset if we don't sign a big target, but I will admit that if we don't land Booker, I will be quite frustrated and a bit down. Let's get him!
Transitioning to college football as a whole....
6. Texas is a fraud and was a fraud. I never understood why preseason prognosticators were ranking Texas in the Top 15 and favorites to win the Big 12. I never believed it. Talent aside - and Texas fans should be very upset given what they have access to - Mack Brown is on the way down and Texas simply isn't that great of a club. They haven't been good the last two years and I saw nothing in the offseason that was going to magically change that reality. And, guess what - nothing changed. BYU is a decent club, a school the Big 12 should have signed up along with Louisville -- but that itself is a bit ironic to me. Texas, the supposed juggernaut that the Big 12 requires in order to stay together, who refuses arrogantly to get back to 12 teams while other conferences go to 14 -- loses in embarrassing fashion to one of the schools they could get to go back to 12. And, while I understand the transitive property is not applicable to sports, I do find it entertaining that BYU lost to Virginia last week, who got utterly destroyed (at home!) by Oregon, 59-10. Yeah, Texas is not close. Not close at all.
7. The Big 12 is 5th among the Big 5. It's way too early to predict, but who exactly is great in the Big 12? Baylor seems good but they've played Wofford and Buffalo, so that's truly impossible to judge. K-State, while I suspect will improve over the season, lost to ND State. Oklahoma looked truly unimpressive against West Virginia, the supposed great addition to their league who needed last minute heroics to beat William & Mary. Iowa State lost to Northern Iowa. Okie State is probably the best, but they aren't exactly rolling over folks. TCU is decent but not any better than Top 20 and now has lost Pachall. So, let's say Oklahoma State is the best...are they in the league of the Big Ten's best (Ohio State/Michigan), the Pac 12's best (Oregon, Stanford), the SEC's best (Alabama) or the ACC's best (Clemson)? No. They'd be 3rd or 4th best in any of those conferences. Folks, if we were in the Big 12, we'd be in a position to win it. Not joking.
8. Poor Louisville. They are legitimately good, should-compete-for-title-good, in my view, but their schedule is just atrocious. They'd win the Big 12, but sadly, the best team they play is...is...UCF? I thought it might be Cincinnati but they were embarrassed by Illinois. Rutgers is average. USF is bad. At least Boise would sometimes have a non-con opponent worth something -- Louisville plays...Kentucky. Oh, well -- barring a ton of teams losing 2 or maybe 3 games, I think Louisville languishes in the 5-10 range all year. But, they will get a chance to play a big boy again in a BCS game, since the American gets a berth.
9. Are there ANY BCS-busters? Last week I cited Western Kentucky and Arkansas State, who both were humiliated in their attempts to prove themselves against SEC competition, so that's out the window. WKY is still actually decent in my mind , but their comedy of turnovers in the first quarter ended that game before it started. Outside of that, it was an even game! ;-) Out of the remaining potential BCS busters, BYU and Navy have the schedules but are independents and thus don't have an automatic entry possibility just by being in the Top 12 or 16, as that's reserved for conference champs -- though I suppose both have big enough fan bases they could be at-large picks if in the Top 14. Northern Illinois is still a threat as they're already getting decent votes, but they play no one (that didn't stop them last year, though). East Carolina will have a chance to impress with games against Virginia Tech and North Carolina. A common choice - Fresno -- I don't buy into at all. Utah State actually would be my pick if they had taken care of Utah, but they didn't. Wyoming had a chance vs. Nebraska, but didn't. Some of these teams are quite good and still have time to prove me otherwise, but can they get high enough to trigger a berth? I have my doubts.
10. Non-conference games are fun. Despite the trend towards 9 conference games for most leagues, I have to say I really enjoy the non-conference portion of the season. Of course, games like Clemson vs. Georgia are always compelling, but so are games like we had on Saturday and will on the 21st. I think the non-con serves as a good comparison between conferences as well as good variety for fans in terms of whom they see their own team(s) face. So, count me as a fan of a 4-game non-conference schedule, as long as the regular season is 12 games.
Bonus: My Top 5, right now, is: 1. Alabama; 2. Oregon; 3. Clemson; 4. LSU; 5. Ohio State
That's it for this week. Glad we're 2-0. Will be fun next weekend watching all the games on TV knowing we're good for another week.