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What can we actually learn from Missouri vs. Missouri State?

Barring disaster, Missouri should handle Missouri State pretty easily on Saturday. But that doesn’t mean we can’t learn a few things about the Tigers.

NCAA Football: Eastern Michigan at Missouri
Anthony Sherrils
Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

One of my mantras in writing about college football is that you can learn something from every game. We get this tiny sample of 12 games — 75 percent of what you get in the NFL, less than 40 percent of what you get in college basketball, less than 10 percent of what you get in MLB — and we immediately lop off another half of that sample because “ain’t played nobody.” It’s maddening.

That said, you can only learn so much from certain games. Mizzou begins its 2017 season against what is hopefully an overmatched Missouri State team. The Tigers are projected to win by about 25 points, and I don’t think anyone on this site would complain if it were quite a bit more than that.

If Missouri indeed dominates its in-state foe, though, we won’t exactly be able to glean that the Tigers are destined for a New Year’s Day bowl or something. If Drew Lock’s passer rating hits 180, it’s not a sign of a Heisman Trophy run. But we can still learn a few things from Saturday’s affair.

1. How’s Tucker McCann doing?

McCann’s freshman season was, shall we say, fraught. He proved his enormous leg on kickoffs but couldn’t control it in place-kicking and appeared to let a few iffy kicks get into his head.

Barry Odom is putting either total trust or faith (or both) in the sophomore. We’ll begin to learn immediately if this is well-placed, or if Mizzou is doomed to limp through another season without trust in the most important member of a special teams unit. Missouri may be playing Missouri State, but McCann is facing the same opponent he’ll face for the next 11 games as well: himself.

NCAA Football: Eastern Michigan at Missouri
Tucker McCann (98)
Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

2. How might the secondary fare this year?

In just over a week, South Carolina will bring Deebo Samuel and company to town. Auburn and its arsenal of sophomore speedsters will come to Columbia later in September as well.

Missouri State doesn’t have anybody of that caliber, but the Bears have variety and just enough quality to put a little strain on a secondary that will basically feature three first-time starters in corners Logan Cheadle and DeMarkus Acy and safety Jordan Ulmer. (Yes, there has been a spot start or two in there, but that doesn’t count.)

MSU boasts a big, steady target in Malik Earl, plus jitterbug Deion Holliman, tight end Erik Furmanek, and JUCO transfer Tyler Currie. Wherever there might be a weakness in the Mizzou secondary, the Bears could figure out how to exploit it, at least for a while. If the Tigers completely shut down this attack, that might mean something.

It also might mean something if they give up 350 passing yards.

3. What’s changed about the Mizzou offense?

Granted, I’m betting Mizzou and offensive coordinator Josh Heupel keep things reasonably vanilla with South Carolina on deck, but we’ll still get a feel for both what has changed regarding the Tigers’ base offense and how well Mizzou appears to execute the base offense. Who is Drew Lock leaning on? How many guys are going deep? Are there any new wrinkles in the run game?

I don’t see Missouri State being able to do too much to stop this Tiger attack (though honestly, I’m hoping to see an early failure or two, just to see how Mizzou responds to a little, but not too much, adversity), but every year a team’s identity changes at least a bit. I’m looking forward to seeing what has changed for Mizzou.

Johnathon Johnson
Johnathon Johnson (12)
Derrick Forsythe (Rock M Nation)

4. Bad things

There’s always the chance of a surprise. I don’t see MSU being able to test a rebuilt Mizzou run defense all that much, but if I’m wrong, that’s a problem. If Missouri’s offense is struggling in certain ways — iffy blocking up front, lack of rhythm in the passing game, etc. — that might (or might not) be a sign of a slow September. If Johnathon Johnson fumbles again, or McCann misses his first field goal,

There are plenty of things on the “This could be foreboding...” list. For now, though, we’ll move on.

5. How’s Stec doing?

Aside from Odom, Dave Steckel is the most prominent member of the Gary Pinkel Coaching Tree. Former Pinkel OC Dave Christensen did alright for a few years at Wyoming, but it would be fun if the former Pinkel DC were to build something interesting elsewhere in the state, especially with former Tigers Jason Ray, Munir Prince, and Kenji Jackson on staff. So here’s to hoping we leave Faurot Field on Saturday thinking a) that was a fun, easy Tiger win, and b) I think those Bears are going to be a pretty tough out in the Missouri Valley...