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PREGAMIN’ ‘BAMA

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BOTTOMS (AND MASK) UP, Y’ALL! WE’RE HEADED INTO A VERY SPECIAL, VERY SNEEZY SEASON OF PREGAMIN’!

Truman pleads his case to the COVID-19 virus. All he wants is football.

WELCOME, WELCOME, WELCOME, EVERYONE TO ANOTHER YEAR OF —

*COUGH COUGH COUGH*

NO WAIT, I PROMISE IT’S JUST ALLERGIES!

You still here? OK great. I don’t think germs can transmit via the internet, but it feels like we’re just minutes away from getting that news, right? It’s been that type of year. But, like the moon that turns the tides, America is soldiering on with #sports like we’ve always done. And if there’s going to be college football played at the University of Missouri, you know there’s also going to bE PREGAMIN’, Y’ALL!

We’ve got a whole new batch of writers for your favorite prediction piece of the week that’s not hidden behind a paywall! So mask up, grab a six-pack and start crushing, because it’s time to get this year started.

Keep Calm and Wear a Mask!

In a new addition to this year’s COVID-19 edition of PREGAMIN’, we’ll be keeping you up-to-date on home game policies and the latest news out of Columbia re: Coronavirus.

All Aboard the Hype Train!

It’s a #NewZou, and there does seem to be a new aesthetic to the this year’s hype videos. Less focus on naturalism and highlights, more on heightened dramatic coloring and pacing. The #NewZou feels more Hollywoodk in that sense, and I’m here for it!

So Fresh and So Clean, Clean

The clean black-and-gold look for Week One and Eli Drinkwitz’s first game as a Tiger. Black satin sheen on the helmet with the black jersey and gold pants? It’s a yes from me, dawg.

What the “Experts” are saying:

Pardon the old graphic, we’re working on a new one currently!

WELCOME BACK TO PREGAMIN’, Y’ALL! Things may look a bit different this year, and we all may be pregamin’ in the comfort of our sweats and sandals instead of in a parking lot. But differences or not, football is being played. Did you ever think we were going to get to this point? How does it feel to know that we’re getting football regardless of all the craziness in the world?

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: JUL 15 SEC Media Days Photo by Michael Wade/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Josh Matejka, Deputy Manager: To be honest, no. I didn’t think we’d get here. I knew about the money that was on the line, and I know that America will fight to hell and back to have sports. But I really didn’t think we’d get to a point where administrations were willing to risk a player’s death to play football games. But here we are. And while my fears about the season aren’t going anywhere soon, there’s no doubt that I’ll be tuning in. It’ll be nice to have another one of my great loves back in my life. I’m just hoping we don’t have to suffer any dire consequences for wanting a slice of normalcy back in our lives.

Nate Edwards, Football Editor: Over the past seven months I’ve never wavered on whether we’d see actual football being played. It was always a question of how long it would be played, and how many people would die because of it. So far there’s been one college football player who died and numbers of players being quarantined either due to contact tracing or by straight up having it, but because football is such an integral part of money generation in this country, I always knew in the back of my mind that we would see some iteration of it.

How does it feel, knowing that these guys are voluntarily risking their lives to bring me entertainment? Mixed! I’m glad it’s there, I’m glad I can see the new Mizzou players and the new coaching staff do its thing. But it’s a schedule we’ll probably never see again in a season that won’t really have much to play for other than proof of concept and long term culture building. College football never plays on an “even playing field” anyway thanks to widely differing budgets, recruiting, and scheduling, but this year adds on “COVID injuries” and wonky practices and the massive asterisk next to this season means it doesn’t mean as much. It should, however, mean that teams go crazy with scheme and aggressiveness and trying out all the crazy dumb stuff you’re afraid to try in a “normal” year.

Brandon Kiley, Lead Football Writer: I always believed the SEC would get to this point. There was just too much money on the line to cancel the season. Without SEC football, I’m not sure how these athletic departments would operate for the 2020-2021 academic year. Heck, the partial crowds are still going to make it difficult on ADs.

That being said, it still feels strange that we’re actually here. Much like the NFL season, I feel like the lack of a true lead-up has made it difficult to be as excited about the year as I typically would be. That doesn’t mean I won’t be watching. Of course I will. But, due to the pandemic, we’ve had fewer stories about actual on-field product this preseason than ever before. All of that goes away, finally, when the Tigers kick off against Alabama. Once the ball is kicked, I think I’ll be ready to go.

Karen Steger, Editor: No, I didn’t actually think it is was going to happen, and frankly, after last week’s testing results and subsequent quarantining for close contacts, I thought there was a good chance it would be announced that this game was postponed. But alas, here we are. Look, I understand why it is necessary for college football programs to try and play, given the enormous financial repercussions it would have on an athletic department should it be canceled, but I have trouble reconciling with the fact that it really is all about the money, and not about the health of the unpaid athletes on the field.

That being said, am I glad I will be watching Tiger Football on Saturday in person? You betcha. But do I feel good about it knowing about what’s happening in the world? Nope. It feels kinda icky. A player has died. Countless others have or are at risk for serious health issues after having Covid. But, I will watch the Tigers as long as they are playing because I will always support them. I am excited to see my old faves like Larry Three-Sticks and Nick Bolton, as well as the new guys, and it’ll be great to see Drink in action. So bring it on. Hope we don’t regret it.

Kortay Vincent, Football Beat Writer: I always thought football was going to be played. I think that there is too much TV money on the line for so many colleges. What I did not foresee is that there would be fans in attendance. While there may only be 25%, I think that having the games and having some fans brings a real sense of normalcy back to our lives. Although there will be no tailgating, I think that just the fact that the Tigers will take the field on Saturday is huge for restoring this world to our previous life. It may seem so inconsequential in the grand scheme of everything that has happened this year, but football being played on Saturdays in the fall is something we all cherish and can remind things will get better eventually.

Sammy Stava, Staff Writer: After the Big Ten and Pac-12 decided to postpone the fall season back in early August, I (as well as the B1G and P12) just thought all of the other Power Five conferences were going to follow suit. That just wasn’t the case – and the SEC maybe had the best plan of all, pushing back the start of the season to September 26th with bye weeks mixed in.

And we’re not totally out of the woods yet, but we’re at least going to get this season started. Saturdays are going to feel right again, as College Football attempts to bring some normalcy in 2020. It’s a good feeling, so let’s keep it that way.

It was an eventful offseason for Eli Drinkwitz, who has balanced social justice messaging and a global pandemic on top of one of the best recruiting stretches in recent program history. How confident are you feeling about Drink heading into the first game of his tenure?

Appalachian State v South Carolina Photo by Jacob Kupferman/Getty Images

Josh Matejka: As confident as one can feel without having seen a game. The one thing I always thought Barry Odom had going for him was that his players believed in him and fought for him. I was a little worried that loyalty would be hard to translate to a new coach, but it certainly appears that Drink has all his guys on board early. The receptiveness to the social justice messaging was especially encouraging in that regard. Tack on the best recruiting class Mizzou has had in half a decade, and it’s hard not to be pretty thrilled with Drink’s first offseason.

Nate Edwards: I feel great about Drink heading into this game, because he passed every offseason test, and then some. I will feel less great as his team gets their brains bashed in over the first six weeks. But, again, we all — myself included — need to focus on the big picture stuff for this season. Does he keep the recruiting going? How is his offensive scheme? Are the young guys pushing the older guys? How clean are routes? Are “dumb” penalties being reduced? Small looks into the program that aren’t part of stats or wins/losses that give us a better idea of how the team is going to be five years down the line.

Brandon Kiley: Given the circumstances, I’m not sure you could have a better offseason than Drinkwitz did. He brought in three graduate transfers who are all expected to be immediate contributors offensively. His 2021 recruiting class still ranks in the top 25 in the country. He’s had multiple viral moments in reaction videos, Zoom interviews, or Tweets.

There’s a renewed sense of optimism and energy around the program. That was the goal of hiring a coach with Drinkwitz’s resume. The games have yet to be played, but that’s exactly what he’s brought to the program thus far.

Karen Steger: I love Drink. Love everything he’s doing. The social media, the social justice, his energy, the humor, all of it. Love him so much I want to pen a love letter to him without ever seeing him coach a game, but we know that doing so enacts a curse (right, BK?). There seems to be, as everyone else is saying, a real sense of camaraderie, energy and optimism around the program, and it’s nice to see, especially in such weird times. Drink and his staff is killing it on the recruiting front without actual visits taking place, and I have to commend them for that. However this strange all-SEC season goes will not take away my good feelings about him. The wins will come. In the meantime, we’ll analyze the little things (well, I won’t, but the rest of these guys will).

Kortay Vincent, Football Beat Writer: Personally, I love Coach Drink and the direction I feel he is taking the program. His charisma and evident zeal for life seem to rub off on his players and brings the attitude I want in the locker room. He has a tall order with an all-SEC schedule this year, but with the way he has handled everything in stride so far, I wouldn’t put it past Drink to pull off some shockers this year. I’m a big believer and I think that this Saturday is the first step to restoring our Tigers to their former glory competing for conference championships every year.

Sammy Stava: As for this season with arguably the toughest schedule in the country? Yeah, not confident at all — and that’s okay. Although, I am confident in the direction this program is heading in under Drinkwitz because he has done just about everything right so far before even coaching a game. The recruiting is off to a tremendous start, and there’s just this energy surrounding the program that feels different – in a good way. Now, all he needs is wins. That’ll come – but it’s going to have to be a patient process.

Usually we’d have more than one question about the game itself, but there are a ton of unknowns at play on Saturday. What we do know: Alabama is Alabama and Missouri is... not. What do you need to see from Mizzou in Week 1 that will have you encouraged for the rest of the season?

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 16 Florida at Missouri

Josh Matejka: I’ll give the Tigers three options of things I’d like to see. If they can achieve one of three, I’ll be satisfied; if they can achieve two of three, I’ll be encouraged; three of three, and I’ll be elated.

1. Three or more sustained drives (more than two first downs, if you’re wanting to be specific.) They don’t have to end in touchdowns every time, but I’d like to see that the Drinkwitz offense has sunk in to the point that it can be executed against good teams.

2. At least one turnover. This may be a lot to ask, but I think it would suggest that the pass rush is headed in the right direction and that the back seven are at least capable of living up to their promise.

3. A touchdown from the starting QB. Whether they throw or run it in, I’d like to see Robinson or Bazelak find pay dirt at least once. None of these 3+ field goal games.

Nate Edwards: I go back to my previous answer: execution, discipline, proof of concept regarding scheme, and individual progression from the younger guys. Having only 11 offensive linemen is going to make the offense really crappy but there’s still elements we can look for. How does Drink script its opening drive? How is he at the end of half and (possibly) end of game? What’s he like when they’re doing well versus when they’re doing poorly? What are the rotations on the defensive line? Does a core group of offensive linemen work better together? Is Shawn Robinson’s footwork better? Are the corners still super grabby or do they hang better? Little things that I want answers to for me to feel good not about 2020, but 2021 and onward.

Brandon Kiley: I know this might be the obvious answer, but I think it’s also the correct answer: I want to see success from the quarterback position. I’m still assuming (maybe incorrectly) that Shawn Robinson is going to be the starting quarterback this season. The last time we saw him as a starter in college football was 2018 with TCU when he averaged just 5.5 yards per pass attempt and finished the year with 12 total touchdowns and eight interceptions. Has he improved as a passer? That’s the number one question for Mizzou in this game and beyond. If he can at least show flashes of quality play against this Alabama defense, that’s all you can ask for.

I also want to see how Drinkwitz plans to utilize his weapons offensively. It’s not hard to talk yourself into Larry Rountree, Tyler Badie, Daniel Parker Jr., Damon Hazelton, Keke Chism and Jalen Knox as a solid group of skill players. How does Drinkwitz get them involved against a star-studded defense?

Karen Steger: From all of the posts I’ve read of my talented colleagues, I’ll scrounge up something, since I don’t claim to be a football aficionado. How’s the offense look? Specifically, whomever chosen QB is, is he capable enough to lead this offense through this game and a treacherous schedule? I’d love to see a couple (?) touchdowns to ease my doubts about the offense. I’d also love to see an absence of the dumb penalties we’ve sadly become accustomed to in recent years. And since the defense is a supposed strong suit, what are they showing us? Are they able to stop anything Alabama does? I’d also like to see some sort of noticeable contributions from at least some of the newbies... what can they bring to the field? I know it will be hard to show much of anything against a team like Alabama, but I’m hoping we can see something that will make us have hope, like, “Hey, maybe if it wasn’t freakin’ Alabama, I could see how (insert name) could be successful...” What that something is, exactly, I don’t know, because hey... I’m not a football analyst or writer.

Kortay Vincent: If I was to pick three things I’m hoping to see Saturday night, they would be finding an answer at QB, improved O-Line play, and the defense to perform as we expect. If this team wants to accomplish anything, it starts under center. We need stability and leadership at the quarterback spot, otherwise, this will be a long year. The best way to ensure that is possible is through improved protection of our QB. It’s hard to be successful when you are running for your life. This week I hope we see an improved offensive line that rises to the occasion of facing one of the nation’s best defenses. The final thing I hope to see is a solid defensive performance. The defensive side of the ball should be this team’s biggest strength, and Alabama will be one of their biggest tests. If the defense is able to contain the Crimson Tide offense, I think that bodes well for what we can expect the rest of this season.

Sammy Stava: If there is a “good” time to get Alabama – it is Week One in this strange season. Missouri has absolutely nothing to lose in this game, so the Tigers should go out and play like it. I just want to see what a Drinkwitz-led offense looks like against one of the best teams in the country. If it’s competitive and not a 35-0ish blowout, there could be some positive signs to take away. Give us at least some moments in this game that show that Missouri belongs on the same field with Bama, and that could go a long way in my confidence for the rest of the season.

PICK ‘EM! Who’s winning this match up of Tiger and Elephant? Does Alabama cover the spread?

Alabama v Auburn Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Josh Matejka: As of Tuesday morning, Alabama is sitting at -27, and I can’t help but think Mizzou will cover. Yes, Alabama is going to win and probably by more than 3 touchdowns. And, yes, maybe I’m too excited about the first game of Drinkwitz’s tenure. But there seems to be an energy around the Tigers right now that ignores depth issues and fights hard against the dying of the light... or in this case, the hope of a week one victory. The fact that Missouri’s defense should be a strength helps. I can see the score being somewhere around 38-13, with Alabama pulling their starters late to make sure everyone on the depth chart gets some work in.

Nate Edwards: I currently see Alabama is at -27 (Monday evening) and I still think that’s too high. No one wants to expose any of their guys longer than they have to. So I’ll take Missouri to cover because that’s what great teams do.

Brandon Kiley: I mean, let’s be honest here. I’ll take Alabama and I’ll take them by a final score of 48-17. I think they cover the spread (Monday evening). I don’t know how Mizzou defends receivers like Jaylen Waddle or DeVonta Smith. Najee Harris is one of the best running backs in the country. Dylan Moses is a superstar at middle linebacker. Patrick Surtain II is one of the best corners Mizzou will face all season.

I’m not telling you anything you don’t already know. Alabama is unbelievably talented. Mizzou is still building. This is going to be rough. Next week will be a better gauge of where Mizzou is at its rebuilding schedule.

Karen Steger: I’m not a gambler and never really understood the spread stuff. Do I think Mizzou will lose? Yeppers. Do I think they will lose by 27? Nope. So that means Mizzou will cover the spread? Bet y’all are ready to kick me out of participating in this post, huh?

Kortay Vincent: I think Mizzou will cover the -28 spread. Coming out of the gate, there have been very few extremely high scoring games, and I think that trend will continue. I by no means am picking the Tigers to win outright, but I do think they have a great opportunity to cover and make some of us a little bit of cash.

Sammy Stava: Homer pick, because why not? Alabama will NOT cover the spread. Missouri makes it interesting and hangs around for a quarter or two before Bama eventually runs away with it. In the end, it will result as an positive showing. 34-14 Tide.