The Missouri Tigers and the Eli Drinkwitz era are heading into the strange 2020 season with plenty of question marks, none bigger than the one concerning the team’s most important position— who exactly is going to be named the starting quarterback? Back in June, Coach Drinkwitz called it “the biggest question on our football team right now,” and that remains true today. It’s such a looming question, in fact, that there won’t be an official answer until September 26th against Alabama. Hooray!
We can certainly expect Shawn Robinson, Taylor Powell, and Connor Bazelak to be the main competitors for the starting job during this fall camp, as Nate Edwards outlined in his quarterbacks preview piece on Monday. However, none of them seem to be a slam dunk to automatically guarantee the spot.
So, here we are. Welcome to an open quarterback competition!
What? A quarterback battle, you say? When was the last time a Missouri football team entered a season with a legitimate competition for the starting quarterback spot? Well, 2011 seems to be the last notable one, so let’s take a trip down memory lane and see what that competition was like.
After Blaine Gabbert decided to forgo his senior season and declare early for the NFL Draft, that left redshirt freshman Tyler Gabbert, redshirt sophomore Blaine Dalton, and sophomore James Franklin to compete for the starting spot in the spring of 2011. Gabbert and Franklin were four-star recruits coming out of high school, while Dalton was a high 3-star; this made for an intriguing battle, and even though Pinkel said that Gabbert was having “a really good spring,” the Black & Gold game really pushed Franklin to the front. While Gabbert’s B & G game was a debacle which included an 8-22 performance for a measly 48 yards, Franklin went 13-21 with 116 yards and a touchdown.
Certainly there wasn’t anything written in stone after the spring game performance, but less than a month after the B&G game, Gabbert (and Dalton, for that matter) decided to transfer, leaving Franklin the enshrined starter. Despite throwing only 14 passes in his freshman year, the sophomore entered fall camp as the expected leader, competing with Ashton Glaser and Jimmy Costello for the top spot. The momentum certainly favored Franklin.
Going back to August of 2011, here’s what Bill Connelly had to say about the quarterback position scenario.
Two things are certain regarding Missouri’s 2011 crop of quarterbacks:
1. There is so much to be excited about. Franklin really did show us glimpses of each of Missouri’s last three-star quarterbacks — Smith, Daniel, and Gabbert — in his limited playing time. He has toughness, running ability, nice touch, and perhaps some third down moxie. Franklin has significant upside, and with such a veteran supporting cast, optimistic Missouri fans will have plenty of reason for being well, optimistic.
2. There is still so much unknown. We almost take good quarterback play for granted at Mizzou, but it’s never guaranteed. Blaine Gabbert had his flaws, but he was a known quantity. Heading into 2011 with a veteran quarterback was an appealing thought. But now Mizzou has to roll the dice again.
A lot of what Bill said can relate to this season, as Mizzou will have to roll the dice again in 2020. And while there may be even more unknowns with the inexperience as there was in 2011, there is still reason to be excited about the potential of what Robinson and Bazelak can bring.
Of course, expectations were a lot higher in 2011 as Missouri entered that season at No. 21, fresh off a 10-3 2010 campaign. As you would expect, the inexperience at the quarterback position was the biggest story line entering fall camp, Dave Matter wrote in the Columbia Daily Tribune.
When Missouri’s preseason camp opens tomorrow with an afternoon practice, sophomore James Franklin officially becomes the unquestioned but untested starting quarterback. It’s not the first time Pinkel has entrusted such a young player with the position. Brad Smith, Chase Daniel, and Blaine Gabbert all became starters their second year at MU. The latter two led Missouri to eight wins as first-year starters.
Just like Daniel and Gabbert before him, Franklin produced a successful sophomore campaign after winning the starting job. Playing in all 13 games, he led Missouri to an 8-5 record throwing for 2,865 yards with 21 touchdowns and 11 interceptions.
Missouri found their answer at quarterback in 2011. Here’s hoping they find an answer for this season.