Practice starts on Monday.
On December 22nd, 2021, the 2021 version of the Missouri Tigers wrapped up their season by giving us a preview of what the 2022 team could look like. But as Eli Drinkwitz has been transitioning the roster to his own, there’s been a few bumps. Coaching moves have destabilized the defensive side of the ball and impacted recruiting.
While there have been plenty of offseason wins (Google: Luther Burden), the on the field wins have been harder to come by. After overachieving in a COVID-impacted SEC-only season in year one, the offense and defense never got on the same page in year two, causing a bumpy uneven season.
But two bowl seasons are better than none, and we’re just now reaching a point where those offseason wins should start making an impact.
I’m by no means a “win big in year 3” guy, especially for football. Mizzou is in a tough spot in a really tough league. They’ve hired a young, slightly inexperienced head coach, who’s charismatic and a capable recruiter. I’m not sure what my expectations are this season, but around the country expectations are low.
Preseason Mizzou was picked 6th out of 7 teams (as usual, sorry Vandy). Last year they finished 4th after being picked 4th at Media days. The season before they finished 3rd, and due to COVID there were no SEC Media Days. The media still had their poll and picked Mizzou 6th. So being picked 6th again feels low.
South Carolina added erratic quarterback Spencer Rattler to a team in need of a quarterback. Florida always gets the benefit of the doubt. Kentucky is replacing their Offensive Coordinator, and always plays with a razor thin margin. Tennessee always has talent. And everyone is playing for second behind Georgia, the reigning National Champions.
So what is the cause for optimism in Columbia, Missouri?
For one, Luther Burden is an example of a consistent and improved approach to recruiting and elevating the talent level at Mizzou. Drinkwitz landed the 6th best recruiting class in the SEC with the last signing class, and had the 11th ranked class in 2021. He’s starting to stack classes. 2023 has been a little bumpy so far, but it’s all a race to the early signing date in December. In other words, judge the class when it’s signed.
Burden joins an already talented (though young) group of receivers. There are talented runners, a fairly deep offensive line group. The defense started figuring things out late last year, but are having another reset as Blake Baker takes over for Steve Wilks. They’ve imported some talented transfers and have a good young crop of defensive backs.
The skill positions could be exciting, and the defense should be adequate at least.
But any optimism should be met with skepticism.
The first and biggest problem Drinkwitz needs to answer is at quarterback. Drink has landed Brady Cook, Tyler Macon, and Sam Horn in successive classes. But he also brought in a college journeyman QB in Jack Abraham to compete for the job. The move added depth, but also felt like one made in desperation to solidify a questionable position.
The most important position on the field is a big question mark. Cook started and played relatively well against Army in the Armed Forces Bowl last December. But the team still lost the game. Macon played some snaps against Georgia and some reserve snaps against SEMO and Vanderbilt. He flashed athleticism but there are still plenty of question marks. Sam Horn is the high upside bet, a top 250 talent and high 4-star, but Horn is planning on playing baseball as well. Abraham has been at multiple stops, dealt with concussions, and has never really taken off as a starter.
So who wins the job?
That answer will determine the ceiling on the season. It’s exciting to have preseason practice season begin to ramp up. The offseason talk is going to transition. Soon enough it will be game week, and we should have an idea who is starting, and who is the backup. 2022 is a year where you want to see the plan start to take effect. Maybe Drinkwitz doesn’t need to win 10 games, but it would help his cause to win a few more than the prognosticators are predicting.
Aside from the QB position, what are the camp battles YOU think are the most interesting?