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DRINK UP, TIGER FANS, BECAUSE FOOTBALL SEASON IS FINALLY HERE

Josh Matejka

Drink Up!

There doesn’t seem to be a traditional hype video this week (as of this post’s publication), but there’s a lot of stuff out there to get you hyped for Mizzou Football.

How about CoMo getting decked in black and gold?

Or some appreciation for the best marching band in the Midwest?

Or maybe another heartwarming scholarship award video?

Came Through Drippin’

Our first duds of the season are officially here!

...and it’s a bit of a weird choice? Traditionally Mizzou goes with black tops and gold pants to open the season, but they’re opting for a white-black-white combo here. The new jerseys look pretty sharp, and my theory that they elevate the Oval Tiger logo hold true... but it still feels a little strange for Week One.

Injury Report

Leading the injury report for the Chippewas is their very own head coach, who may be out for Saturday’s tilt after having appendicitis earlier this week. It’s certainly a hard adjustment for a Central Michigan that already lost starting RB Kobe Lewis for the season.

Missouri’s injury report isn’t anything to ignore either. The Tigers will officially be without Ja’Mori Maclin and Travion Ford for Week One, and Mookie Cooper is officially listed as “questionable,” which makes you think the coaches won’t take any risks with their brand new Swiss Army Knife. That doesn’t include the three Tigers who will find them permanently on this year’s injury report, the freshmen trio of Ky Montgomery, Zxaequan Reeves and Jonathan Jones.

What the “Experts” are saying

The offseason was chaotic for everyone in college football due to continued COVID-19 concerns, transfer portal chaos and realignment surprises around every corner. If you could give Eli Drinkwitz a grade for the offseason, what would it be?

NCAA Football: SEC Media Days Vasha Hunt-USA TODAY Sports

Nate Edwards, Football Editor: Since A+’s aren’t a thing I’ll give him a 100% “A”. He convinced Michael Maietti and Keke Chism to return for another year. He landed two of the Top 15 most coveted transfers in Blaze Alldredge and Mookie Cooper while also bringing in two NFL-caliber corners from Tulsa. He brought in the greatest recruiting class ever seen at Mizzou (in the Rivals era) and brought in another six blue-chippers for the 2022 class. Oh, and by the way, he was the belle of the ball during SEC Media Days, and topped it off by verbally poking Dan Mullen in his stupid ****ing eye. I mean...what else could you possibly want? The dude is the greatest promoter the school has seen in their football head coach and he has the fanbase engaged and energized. Can’t ask for much more than that.

Brandon Kiley, Lead Football Writer: Anyone giving Drinkwitz less than an “A” for this offseason is out of their mind. His 2021 recruiting class was ranked among the top 20 in the country by Rivals. He’s followed that up with the makings of another top 25 class for 2022. He’s landed a commitment from six blue chip recruits in the 2022 class. He added potential impact transfers at wide receiver, offensive guard, linebacker and cornerback. He took an honest assessment of the coaching staff and made upgrades where he believed upgrades were necessary, specifically on the defensive side of the ball.

Oh, and none of this is to mention the way he’s continued to energize the fanbase throughout the offseason. He’s clearly in full “sell mode” and it’s working. Obviously none of that guarantees success on the field, but Drinkwitz has done everything he can throughout the offseason to put this team in the best possible position to succeed.

Josh Matejka, Deputy Site Manager: To save on the word count, I’ll make this simple: It’s an A, and there’s really no argument otherwise. Exceptional recruiting of both the high school ranks and the transfer portal, securing facility updates, being a focal point of SEC media days... an exceptional 8 months for Eliah.

Aaron Dryden, Staff Football Analyst: I mean, it has to be an “A”, right? The recruiting has been nothing short of spectacular. In the short term, he filled plenty of needs for this year and in the long term he’s grabbed elite players, at some of the most important positions. You can really start to sense that Drinkwitz is beginning to uplift the program before our very eyes. There’s a different aura around this program than in years past, and it’s solely because of Drinkwitz and his staff and the energy they bring.

Kortay Vincent, Football Beat Writer: I think Drinkwitz deserves nothing short of an A grade for this offseason. He made great strides on the recruiting trail by bagging Sam Horn, Marquis Gracial, Dominic Lovett, and Mookie Cooper. He also used the transfer portal to address many areas of need. The additions of Blaze Alldredge, Allie Green IV, and Akayleb Evans will all be filling major holes that many had questions about after some high-profile departures.

However, I think the number one thing that earns Drinkwitz an A from my point of view, is that there is buzz and excitement around the football program. Yes, recruiting success is a huge part of that, but his persona and the culture he’s been building in his first normal season as Head Coach are a part of that, too. Tigers fans are excited for the future for the first time in a while, and any time a coach can take a program that looked like it was in a deep valley just 18 months ago will get an A from me.

Parker Gillam, Football Beat Writer: In terms of Drinkwitz personally, I give him an A. After last season, it figured that Mizzou would have its fair share of hype entering the 2021 campaign. However, I think Drink and this program managed to temper that outside noise and keep their players hungry for much more than a 5-5 record. Going into game week, I don’t think the Tigers are too high or too low on themselves, which is good for a team that can not afford to lose any sort of mental game.

On top of that, Drink has been on a tear in recruiting. Landing 2022 4-star quarterback Sam Horn was the headliner, but Drinkwitz landed three other 4-star recruits since the offseason began. Currently, the Tigers have the 18th best class in the country and 6th best in the SEC. Very, very encouraging numbers as Drinkwitz aims to even out the talent level with some of the big dogs off the conference.

Karen Steger, Madame Editor: I mean, obviously it’s an A, and if I could add plusses I would. From bringing in a Top 20 class this season and getting a great jump on a solid 2022 class, to getting some impact transfers and convincing some guys to stick around to plug in some holes, all while continuing to recruit like hell in Missouri and its surrounding areas, I’ve been IMPRESSED.

Additionally, Drinkwitz’s social media prowess and overall presence— we all saw him KILL IT at SEC Media Days— along the Mizzou Football twitter in general is top-notch. They’re always posting entertaining content and Drink interacting with fans is a fun thing to watch. It’s all good. A! YOU GET AN A!

Sammy Stava, Staff Writer: I’d have to give him an A, because how can you not? The recruiting he’s been able to do has been off the charts and it’s something we simply haven’t seen here at Missouri. The “NewZou” slogan has some legitimacy. He’s knocking it out of the park getting the four-star in-state talent to stay home. It also helps that he’s awesome on social media and made some noise at SEC Media Days.

At one point, the season ticket sales saw a 150 percent increase from 2019. This fanbase is certainly buying in right now.

Levi Hutmacher, Producer: In high school the students who were in honors courses received a grade greater than an A. They called it an H. Well I never received one of those, but I will give Drink an H. In a year filled with a lot of bad news, Drink has brightened our days with new 4-star recruits and stealing other’s commits.

Ryan Faller, Staff Writer: Yeah, c’mon now ... It’s an A.

Eli and his staff, in my opinion, weathered the Covid storm last season about as well as could have been expected, so by comparison, anything he had lined up for the offseason had a tough act to follow.

He may have outdone himself.

Eli was the most charismatic figure at SEC Media Days. He killed it on Marty & McGee (sorta punking down Nick Saban in the process).

Hell, a few days ago, he was handing out water and Gatorade to Marching Mizzou while they practiced.

The dude’s been a wunderkind on the recruiting trail, the likes of which we haven’t seen around here, at least not in the era of Rivals and the other services. “Uh, yeah, give me the No. 1 player in Nebraska, please. And let me have that Top 150 running back that Texas and Alabama wanted, as well as the four-star QB from Georgia’s backyard.

“Aaaaaand, Marcus Scott, you’re not going to LSU. Get ova heeeeere!!”

Yeah, it’s a near perfect score for me.

There’s a lot of excitement around Mizzou’s program — recruiting is at an all-time high, Drink picked a few gems from the portal and some very exciting pieces from last year’s team are back. Give us one reason to be optimistic about Mizzou Football this year.

NCAA Football: Missouri at Mississippi State Matt Bush-USA TODAY Sports

Nate Edwards: Frankly, for me, this season is about seeing how many young guys can see the field and start building towards a break-through in two years. However, to answer the actual question...the defense will probably be a work-in-progress while they shift from Ryan Walters “Single-High-Cover-1-only” defense to Steve Wilks’ “defensive savant” style so if you want to see impressive football it will probably come from the pointsy-boys, especially since Connor Bazelak has had a full offseason as QB1 and they’ll most likely have full access to Drinkwitz’s playbook.

Brandon Kiley: I’m guessing most people will focus on the quarterback position here, so I’ll go another direction (while still acknowledging that Bazelak is probably the correct answer).

I mentioned this in a piece recently, but I think what makes me most optimistic about Mizzou football is the way Drinkwitz anticipates potential problems and tries to find the best possible solution.

Early in Drink’s tenure, he talked about how the Tigers needed more “touchdown-makers,” and he went to the transfer portal to find some. He came away with Keke Chism and Damon Hazelton. That’s not exactly a 100 percent hit rate, but it was about as good as they could do given the time constraints.

The same was true after last season. Missouri had very little depth along the offensive line. The team had a Nick Bolton-sized hole at linebacker. And there were clear deficiencies at cornerback that desperately needed to be addressed. Drinkwitz didn’t hide from any of it. He went to the transfer portal and added potential impact starters at each of those positions.

That’s what gives me optimism about Mizzou football right now. The Tigers have a coach who looks for ways to build potential areas of weakness into areas of strength. It’s not an easy to do, and it won’t always go according to plan. But I admire the gumption, and it’s something that gives me optimism for both the 2021 season and for what the future holds with Drinkwitz in charge.

Josh Matejka: Mizzou shouldn’t be too bad this year, but the future is really where the Tigers are looking to break through... and a lot of the talent they’ll utilize should be on display this year. Dominic Lovett, Elijah Young, Mekhi Wingo, Ennis Rakestraw, Connor Bazelak, Harrison Mevis... I could go on. The point is Missouri is probably another two years from competing for an SEC East title, and this year will likely be a launching pad for a lot of key players. Enjoy watching them grow, because it’ll be fun to remember where they all came from.

Aaron Dryden: This has the potential to be a really good offensive line for Missouri. There’s a lot of athleticism, and most importantly there’s a whole lot of experience. There will be offensive lines that Missouri will face this year who don’t have the experience that just Mike Maietti and Case Cook have. Xavier Delgado has some experience, as does Hyrin White. The only projected starter without a whole lot of experience is Javon Foster, but even he’s seen some time before.

The best teams in the SEC are usually the ones with the best offensive lines. I think Missouri has a chance to shock some people, and the offensive line is a big reason I think they have a shot to do that.

Kortay Vincent: Obviously it’s exciting to have a guy who’s a known commodity under center and still has four years of eligibility left, somehow. However, what has me personally most excited for this season is the revamped receiving corps.

Mookie Cooper and Dominic Lovett are the ones that most are buzzing about because they’re new faces on campus, but young guys like JJ Hester and Chance Luper have supposedly taken big steps this year, especially Luper.

After a year in which Mizzou didn’t have a go-to receiver outside of the last couple of games when Keke Chism stepped up, having these new toys and a full SEC season for Chism and Tauskie Dove should have the receiving corps looking like a brand new unit.

Parker Gillam: Connor Bazelak is legit. A sophomore slump is something every freshman phenom fears, but at least so far, it does not look like that will be the case for Bazelak (knock on wood). I have been at many of the fall camp practices, and he just looks like a guy that is ready to take the next step. He has the full backing of his team despite being a sophomore, and the steps he has taken in leadership have been huge.

Personally, what has impressed me most about seeing him in-person is his accuracy. Bazelak throws absolute lasers out on the field and seems to be in full control of the offense. It may be the obvious choice, but the quarterback spot is the one place that can change a team’s season. This offense is geared towards him, now it is time for Bazelak to become a household name across the country.

Karen Steger: ONE REASON?!? How can I just pick one? I’m full of optimism every season, warranted or not, and Drink has given me no reason to doubt myself. So this resident editor/non-football writer is going to sound like a broken record here, but yeah.. it’s QB1, Connor Bazelak, first and foremost. He’s got a whole year under his belt — albeit a weird Covid one with next to no fans in the stands while operating under a limited playbook — and did a commendable job. Baze is going to have a bunch of new, exciting players to get the ball to (those transfers!! [insert heart eye emojis]), as well as some reliable vets, and it’s going to be so much fun watching Connor & Co get a whole ass playbook to work with and seeing what they can do. The glass is definitely half-full.

Sammy Stava: I know this is an easy and popular answer, but it’s got to be Connor Bazelak. For Missouri to have a successful season, the Tigers must have an experienced and formidable starting quarterback. And they do! Not many SEC teams can say that this season with their QB situation.

Last season, Bazelak was a steady, game managing quarterback that just didn’t make many mistakes. This year he’ll have some more playmakers at wide receiver for the potential to be a breakout star in this league. This offense has some exciting talent and some key pieces, and it all starts with Bazelak.

Levi Hutmacher: I am going to go with the running backs.

I can’t wait to see Badie in a starting role and how Drink plans to use him. But I am even more excited to see and expanded role for Elijah Young. He reminds me a lot of Badie with flashes of a little more toughness in there. Sure we rarely saw him last season, but the talent is there.

A good running game isn’t done alone, either. It’s relies on a good offensive line, which I think we might see this season. As Aaron mentioned, there is a lot of experience here, and with that experience comes familiarity with blocking for Badie. Should be a fun group to watch go to battle together.

Ryan Faller: The optimism of the new season extends across all three phases.

Offensively, we know that Connor Bazelak’s floor can win you games, but what if he takes the next step? If he does, it could be a very interesting season. The absence of Larry Rountree III is offset by an infusion of highly-recruited talent at wideout, which should speed up Bazelak’s progression, as well as act as reassurance for Tyler Badie that he doesn’t need to be the workhorse that Rountree was — he just needs to be Tyler Badie.

Defensively, some growing pains are inevitable as Steve Wilks’ scheme takes hold, but I am encouraged by his approach to scrap man-to-man in favor of zone coverage. The back end should ultimately be much improved — if for no other reason than the fact there’s so many able bodies — but I still have questions about voids at linebacker and defensive end. By all accounts, Blaze Alldredge, while no Nick Bolton, drew some favorable reviews during camp, but who is the man to bookend with Trajan Jeffcoat? Is that gonna be Isaiah McGuire? Can Chris Turner break out for what seems like his 15th year in Columbia? Does an unexpected candidate emerge from obscurity, or will it simply be a committee effort?

Special teams, well, we got the Thiccer. Next question.

Central Michigan isn’t exactly a blue blood, but they’re far from the blood donor you’d expect in a season opener. How does Mizzou prevent the upset from Jim McElwain’s Chippewas?

NCAA Football: New Mexico Bowl-Central Michigan vs San Diego State Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Nate Edwards: Mizzou has to win at the “little things”; I’m talking starting field position, number of passing-down situations, yardage to go on 3rd-downs, penalties, boring stuff like that. Those are items that talented teams can usually ignore but tend to be utilized when underdogs topple favorites. The Chips were vulnerable to big pass plays last year and probably will be again since they tend to play super aggressive, havoc-focused defense. Mizzou doesn’t need to blow them out or show off in any capacity; just play smart, take care of the boring stuff, and don’t turn the ball over. Easy, right?

Brandon Kiley: Can I tell you how much I hate games like this? Because I really, really hate them. If Missouri beats Central Michigan by two scores, people will view it as Missouri doing exactly what it was supposed to do. But if it’s a close game - and this very well could be - it will be seen as a warning sign.

Central Michigan isn’t your typical group of five opponent, though. The Chips went 8-6 in McElwain’s first year on campus in 2019 with a close loss at Miami. They went 3-3 in their COVID-19 shortened 2020 season and only one of their three losses came by more than one score.

I’m not here to tell you Central Michigan is some juggernaut. They’re not. But they have a competent coach who knows exactly what it takes to have success at that level, and if Missouri plays a sloppy game, the Chips have everything they need to pull off the upset.

So, that’s what you have to prevent. Play ball-control, mistake-free football and the Tigers should control the game. Pick up a victory and then we can have some fun talking about the swing-game of the season in Lexington.

Josh Matejka: How do you avoid being upset by any opponent? Avoid turnovers, get an early lead, don’t let them hang around... it all applies to Central Michigan as well as any other team you should beat. The major difference? They’ll have less margin for error with a Central Michigan team that returns a lot of talent from last year’s squad. They shouldn’t have the horses to hang with Missouri, but they’ll take advantage if Missouri has early season jitters to exorcise.

Aaron Dryden: Central Michigan is a solid squad, and Missouri should be able to “out-talent” them, but if they come out with the attitude of “We’re Missouri, and we should win this game because of that” then I wouldn’t be surprised to see a game that winds up being a close game in the third or fourth quarter.

They need to be crisp and disciplined. The defense needs to be flying around and make it abundantly clear in the first quarter that this isn’t a game where the opposition has a chance. It’s about setting a tempo.

Kortay Vincent: I grew up living and dying by every play of Oklahoma State football so I know a thing or two about Central Michigan trap games. However, I think Mizzou has the right mindset heading into this game.

Yes, Jim McElwain knows how to win games against SEC teams, but I think if the Tigers come out and jump on the Chippewas with a couple early TDs, they’ll cruise to victory. The last thing Mizzou wants to do is let Central Michigan hang around in a one-score game into the second half.

Parker Gillam: Central Michigan has been a physical, scrappy team in the MAC for years. It does not help that Jim McElwain has won in the SEC before and knows what it takes to get a win like this. This is a sneaky tough game for this Missouri team.

To me, it all depends on the start. Most of the time in week one, the favorite will come out a little sluggish due to pressure and rust, and you better believe that the Chippewas will come out ready top capitalize on that. If the offense can come out and put together some early scoring drives, gain some confidence, then Mizzou will be fine. If they get into a defensive battle and let CMU hang within 10 points, then things will become an issue.

Karen Steger: I think the coaching staff will have the guys ready to go and they’ll get on the board early and often because everyone is well aware of Coach McElwain’s rep as an SEC coach, and what his team did last season. Even if he’s not physically with them after having an emergency appendectomy this week (Hey Jim, been there… rest up), he’s going to have his team ready to compete — they’ve been here before facing Power 5 schools and kept it close — and in turn, the Tigers will be ready to rumble. Will it be pretty? Probably not. There are a lot of “Baby Tigers,” as Nate likes to call them, after all. But will the Tigers pull off a convincing victory in front of a big crowd (we hope, anyway) and be prepared to get it done by focusing on doing the little things correctly? Yep. Our King will stand for nothing less.

Sammy Stava: I like starting the season against Central Michigan instead of an FCS team. This will be a solid test, which worries me a little bit. Mizzou just needs to go out there, take care of business, and take the Chippewas seriously. For that to happen, they will need to avoid the turnovers or big penalties and not let Central Michigan have any serious momentum. As usual, scoring first is always important, but probably even more so in this one.

Levi Hutmacher: Mizzou prevents the upset here by not overlooking CMU.

Study the opponent, follow the game plan, and do what you do and you’ll get the win, Mizzou. Now, this is easier said than done because we Mizzou fans have all experienced heartbreak and unexpected losses throughout our fandom. But we aren’t bringing any of that bad energy onto the Tigers.

In Drink we trust.

Ryan Faller: Mizzou wins by out-talenting CMU, but things could get tight if the Tigers come out sluggish or let off the gas late.

Avoid mental mistakes. Don’t beat yourself. Hold on to the ball. Stop the run to put the opposing offense into predictable situations. Stay ahead of the chains.

You know, all of those cliches that sound so tired but are always true.

And none of this would change even if the Chippewas were making the trip with do-it-all running back Kobe Lewis (ankle) and head coach Jim McElwain, who will remain in Mount Pleasant after undergoing an emergency appendectomy Wednesday.

In short, this game won’t be a rout, but as long as Mizzou plays up to its ability, it shouldn’t be close, either.

PICK ‘EM! Mizzou opened as a -13 favorite on opening day, with an over/under set at 59.5. Give us your picks and predict who will make a splash in Mizzou’s season opener.

NCAA Football: Arkansas at Missouri Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

Nate Edwards: I think Mizzou wins 31-21 so I’ll take the points and since 31+21=52 I’m taking the under.

I don’t think Bazelak will be super impressive but more in line of last year’s “68% completion rate, 5.6 yards per attempt” safety net. I’d expect/hope Badie and Young go off for 150 combined rushing yards while Trajan Jeffcoat and Isaiah McGuire combine for 3 TFLs and 2 sacks.

Brandon Kiley: I’ll take the Tigers minus the points and the under. I think Mizzou will win this game by a final score of 34-20.

Connor Bazelak finishes the day with an efficient 220 yards through the air, Badie and Young give Tigers fans plenty of reasons for optimism in the ground game moving forward and the defense comes up with a couple turnovers to put the offense in advantageous situations to score.

The game ball goes to Trajan Jeffcoat as he picks up right where he left off with two sacks including a strip-sack that gives the Tigers the ball in Central Michigan territory.

Josh Matejka: I’m certainly taking the under on this game, probably around the tune of 31-17. It may take them a few quarters to really get off the ground, but I do think Missouri has a big enough talent advantage to eventually run away from the Chips.

Aaron Dryden: I’ll take the over. I think points will be scored by both teams, and that the first half is going to be closer than many expect. Wouldn’t surprise me if this game is somewhat similar to the Missouri State opener a few years ago. Hopefully not to the point to where we need 70 points to win, but I think this game has a bit of shoot out potential early.

-13 is a nice line. I think the good guys cover, but barely. CMU is going to be up to the challenge, but Missouri is just the better team. 48-34, Tigers.

Kortay Vincent: I will take the Tigers -13, and I think the total will go under. I see this as a 31-10 game, and that it won’t even be that close. With Central Michigan’s star RB out with injury, I think the Tigers are going to be able to shut down the CMU run game, and Steve Wilks’ new zone-heavy defense will thwart any attempts by the Chippewas’ aerial attack.

If there’s someone I think that’s going to make a splash in this game, I’m going to pick Allie Green IV. With Wilks’ defense putting a heavy emphasis on turnovers, I think the former Thorpe Award semi-finalist will snag a pick in his Faurot Field debut.

Parker Gillam: I’ll take the over on that -13, give me Mizzou 35-17. Central Michigan will hang in there but will not have the offensive firepower to score enough points in the second half. As for who will make a splash, with some skill positions guys still dinged up and returning from injury, give me Mr. Fall Camp in wide receiver Chance Luper. I can see him going for 90+ yards and a touchdown, showing that he will be one of the main pieces on this offense in 2021.

Karen Steger: I never understand this betting stuff no matter how often someone explains it to me. Will Mizzou win by 13? Sure. Will the score total 59.5? I’ll take the under, barely, I guess, and call it 38-21 with nice games from some of the transfers, Blaze and the Tulsa Duo (the latter of whom will earn their starting roles). I’ve also decided that, in my “expert” opinion, returner Tauskie Dove is going to have a great game because 1) he has a cool name, and 2) because he hails from the same city (Denton, TX) as one of my favorite former Tigers, Larry Budweiser Sasser. Oh, and my guy Tyler Badie will also have a great game.

If y’all want better, more concise predictions, read literally any of the other writers’ words on this.

Sammy Stava: This one might be interesting for a little while, but when it’s all said and done, Mizzou will come away with a 31-14 victory to cover the spread but miss on the over. We’ll go with the man pictured here to have a big game as Tyler Badie will have two rushing touchdowns on the day.

Levi Hutmacher: I got Mizzou winning this one 34 - 14.

CMU is missing one of their best offensive player makers in running back Kobe Lewis, so I don’t see where much else of their production will come from. Now, I don’t follow CMU but I am basing off last season’s performances.

I think Mizzou has too much firepower on the offensive side for CMU to handle and the defensive line should hold the running game in check. I will say Mizzou gets two turnovers and Badie has a big game.

Ryan Faller: I’ll take Mizzou, 42-20.

I really wanna see the O-line lean on this CMU front seven, but I also selfishly would love getting a glimpse of what the future holds on the outside. As of late Thursday, Mookie Cooper is still questionable, but what about Dominic Lovett? He’s listed as the backup to Tauskie Dove, but I could see him catching a bomb over the top to confirm everything we’ve heard about his speed the last few weeks.

Same goes for Chance Luper, who Drinkwitz said a week ago was performing the best of any receiver in preseason camp. Hell, what about JJ Hester, the forgotten four-star?

If nothing else, it could give Kentucky something to think about next week.