Well, this is certainly not the way we would’ve envisioned putting the final MV3 of the season out into the world. Not after a few weeks of digesting the ugly Mississippi State loss. Not without a chance of redemption against Iowa.
But here we are. Missouri’s season is finished at 5-5. It’s a bitter pill to swallow, but becomes less so when you consider the fact that we somehow got to watch 10 Missouri football games this year.
After every game this season, we’ve polled our masthead for a weekly MV3, or the three most valuable players from the past game. Pretty self-explanatory, yeah? Well, now we’re doing it for the season.
Our staff submitted their season-long ballots over the past few weeks, and not all that surprisingly, the votes were consistent. Only four players on the team got votes for the final tally, and only three of them — the ones you see below — got multiple votes. In a season that surprised all and delighted most, Missouri was led by a small, distinct group of players. Here are our choices for the most valuable players of the season.
1. Nick Bolton
Coming into the 2020 season, Nick Bolton probably had some outsized expectations hefted upon his shoulders. Missouri wasn’t supposed to be great, but the defense had a lot of pieces to be above-average, and Bolton was the face of the unit’s high-end talent. And in light of all these out-sized expectations, Bolton proved that they weren’t so outsized after all.
Bolton appeared to be injured in the Arkansas game — a game where he was also ejected on an egregiously bad targeting call — and played the final two games of the season hurt. However, the junior still led the team in tackles by a large margin, tacking on two sacks and five passes defended. He was named First Team All-SEC by multiple outlets. Every game’s commentary, win or lose, turned into a hagiography of his talents.
Before the bowl game was cancelled, Bolton had already announced he was opting out to prepare for the NFL Draft. You’d be hard-pressed to find one Mizzou fan who was salty. Bolton is arguably one of the greatest Mizzou players to ever suit up, especially on the defensive end. He could be the program’s latest in a long line of first-round draft picks in just a few months.
2. Larry Rountree III
Mizzou’s record in Larry Rountree III’s time with the program is barely over .500. They never won a bowl game while he was in a Tiger uniform. He played under three different offensive coordinators and at least four different quarterbacks. It all seems like an unfitting legacy for the most accomplished running back (and second leading rusher overall) in school history. But that’s who Larry Rountree III was — he was the quietest great to put on a Tiger uniform in recent history.
Of course, the poetry doesn’t end there. Rountree found pay dirt 14 times in Missouri’s 10 games on the season and averaged 97.2 yards per game... less than 3 short of 100 per and less than 30 yards for 1,000 on the season. It’s not as if either would’ve cemented Rountree’s legacy in any meaningful way. After all, Rountree never played on a great team, which seems to be some sort of requirement. But in one of his final press conferences of the season, Eli Drinkwitz pointed out that Larry Rountree wasn’t a selfish player. In his final game against Mississippi State, Rountree didn’t balk when Drink drew up plays for Elijah Young. He knew the young guy needed some reps, and he stepped aside to let it happen.
Very few of the greats are as unselfish as Larry Rountree III was. Let’s hope he doesn’t lose esteem in the fan base’s eyes because of it.
3. Connor Bazelak
Yes, Connor Bazelak closed out the regular season on a dud. No, it doesn’t take away from what he did in the previous eight games.
The Co-SEC Freshman of the Year started the season as Mizzou’s QB-2 and quickly took over after Shawn Robinson faltered against Tennessee. In his first career start, the redshirt freshman faced the defending champion LSU Tigers and ripped their out-of-sorts secondary to shreds to the tune of four touchdowns and more than 400 passing yards.
Over the rest of the season, Bazelak didn’t exactly light up the scoreboard. He only tossed three more touchdowns in the next seven games. But Bazelak displayed remarkable poise as a first-year starter, consistently making good decisions and putting the Tiger offense in a position to succeed. His finest hour may have come in the final minute against Arkansas, when he led the Tigers down the field in short manner to set up the game-winning field goal.
Things won’t get easier for Bazelak from here. Missouri is losing some key offensive pieces, and Tyler Macon likely has his eyes on the starting job. But in his first full year as a Tiger, Bazelak proved he was more than up to the task.
Others receiving votes: Trajan Jeffcoat
One last time this year: Did we get it right? Who would be your most valuable players of the 2020 season? Let us know in the comments or on Twitter at @RockMNation.