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Count the “Ifs” 2022

How do the Missouri football Tigers go from “ok” to “good” to “great”? Here’s how I see it.

You know what time it is? Its time to count some “Ifs”.

Welcome back to a Rock M Nation specialty! The Godfather Bill C. started this annual exercise years ago and now its time for the 2022 version.

I will cite once again Bill’s 2013 “Ifs” list in which the Tigers achieved 13 of the 15 listed goals and had one of the greatest season in Tiger football history. The 2019 Tigers started the year with high hopes but only accomplished a whopping one of the 15 goals I laid out; subsequently, they had one of the most disappointing years in recent memory and, now, Barry Odom is Arkansas’ defensive coordinator. The 2021 Drinkwitz Tigers had a lot of excitement heading into the season with a .500-record from 2020 and recruiting momentum but managed a 6-7 record; coincidentally, they hit 4 of the 6 goals I listed to get to 7 wins and none of the goals laid out to get to 10 wins.

So, look, I’m not saying that what I lay out here is a series of boxes that must be checked and that’s the only way the Tigers can achieve their win goals. What I am saying is that these goals are, on average, indicative of a specific caliber of team and these pieces do tend to have some value as a roadmap to success.

Ready? Let’s go!

The following goals should be achieved for Missouri to win 7 games in 2021

Missouri v Georgia Photo by Todd Kirkland/Getty Images

1. Brady Cook runs the offense like 2020 Connor Bazelak

Ignore the touchdowns and interceptions for a minute; redshirt freshman Connor Bazelak was thrust into the starting quarterback role in relief of the ineffective Shawn Robinson and managed this stat line during his first campaign:

  • 67.3% completion percentage, 6.4 adjusted net yards per attempt, 45.1% passing success rate, 3.3% sack rate, 6 interceptions

Those stats are good, not great. But Bazelak was very much not great last year, regressing in completion percentage (65.3%), ANY/A (5.9), and passing success rate (43.0%) while keeping the same sack rate and increasing interceptions (11). I don’t care who the quarterback is - as of last Tuesday, it was Brady Cook - they just need to be able to keep the offense humming at an efficient pace, bare minimum.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 05 Utah at Stanford Photo by Bob Kupbens/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

2. If the running back(s) maintain last year’s efficiency

The Drinkwitz offense is an efficiency-based attack that’s reliant on stringing together multiple successful plays and hoping that a few break out for explosive gains in yardage. The past two years have had efficiency (47th in 2021) with a noticeable lack of explosiveness (83rd). To get anything going requires those efficient plays and that efficiency is usually a staple of the ground game. In 2021 Badie was the rare efficiency AND explosive option but this year’s group just needs to be reliable, continuing to keep the success rate running the ball around the 44% that Badie managed last year. As to the explosive part...

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 13 South Carolina at Missouri Photo by Scott Winters/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

3. If the new receiving corps can bring any sort of explosiveness to the passing game

An efficient passing game - think the quick passes over the middle or bubble screen to the sideline - is good for an offense but damn if it’s not super boring. It’s good and necessary to reliably churn yards but a college offense also needs explosive plays to make up for the inevitable screw ups. The last two years has not featured a healthy receiver that can deliver on the explosive promise; however, with Burden, Lovett, and a possibly-finally-healthy Mookie Cooper, 2022 should be the year what that aspect of offensive execution can be put on display.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: OCT 02 Tennessee at Missouri Photo by Rick Ulreich/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

4. If an offensive line without Maietti and White maintains last year’s performance

I know it didn’t feel like it but Missouri’s 2021 offensive line actually improved from the 2020 version:

  • 2020 (Powell-Delgado-Maietti-Cook-Borom): 44.8% opportunity rate/60.0% power success rate/18.4% stuff rate/3.6% sack rate/28.6% pressure rate
  • 2021 (Foster-Delgado-Maietti-Wood-White): 52.2% opportunity rate/74.2% power success rate/18.3% stuff rate/3.8% sack rate/23.4% pressure rate

That improvement happened without their best lineman of the ‘20 season - Larry Borom - and with new faces at three of the five offensive line spots. If Hyrin White does up end up missing the season, then the Tigers will be only replacing two spots - center and right tackle - but doing so with a much larger group of experienced players to choose from. Last year’s offensive line wasn’t perfect - and Tyler Badie covered some warts - but if they can maintain the gains from last year with a young center and new swing tackle, then the offense should be able to operate at a position of relative comfort.

PlayStation Fiesta Bowl - Oklahoma State v Notre Dame Photo by Chris Coduto/Getty Images

5. If the front seven can erase the chance of a repeat 2021

Outside of the quarterbacks, the problem with the defense has been the most discussed aspect of this team around these parts. The Drinkwitz staff answered the problem by bringing in six defensive lineman and a linebacker from the transfer portal to stock the depth chart with enough experienced pieces to (hopefully) avoid the woes the befell the first half 2021 defense. So has to work. Between experience (Jeffcoat, McGuire, Robinson), the portal (Jernigan, Coleman, Hopper, et al) and high school (Gracial, Wesolak, etc.) the Tigers should have SOMEBODY in the roster that can execute. The biggest tests are at the beginning of the schedule and performing at the level the defense played at the END of the ‘21 season is all these guys need to do.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 04 Central Michigan at Missouri Photo by Scott Winters/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

6. If the corners don’t bring down the quality of the secondary

You can get away with a glaring weakness as long as there is an incredible strength that can help cover it up. I’m bullish on the defensive line but, man, there’s just a ton of questions in the secondary and, particularly, the cornerbacks. With Abrams-Draine possibly playing outside, Ennis Rakestraw coming off of an injury, and a ton of new faces who have either rarely seen the field or never played in college, a series of question marks litters the corner depth chart. The safeties should be good and can help cover but someone needs to be good in this group if seven wins is the goal.

If the following are achieved, a 10-win season is on the table

7. If Missouri has a star quarterback and he plays the full season

Maybe it’s Cook. Maybe it’s Horn! Maybe it’s Macon? Regardless, if a Missouri quarterback establishes himself as the clear-cut starter AND shows that he is a rising star in the league, you can go back to that 2023 season that Rock M Nation has long ago circled as the breakthrough season for Drinkwitz...and enjoy seeing the youngsters start pushing on that ceiling in ‘22. It’s tough to get to double digit wins without an elite quarterback (Georgia, aside) but if Missouri finds one this year and gives him the reps and experience needed to grow, 10 wins is on the table.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: OCT 09 North Texas at Missouri Photo by Scott Winters/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

8. If the 2022 receiving corps is the 2006 receiving corps

Along the lines of point 7 above, 2006 was the first year with Chase Daniel fully in charge of the offense. He had at his disposal five receivers and two tight ends who earned more than 15 catches on the year. It shook out like this:

  • Chase Coffman - SO: 58 rec, 638 yards
  • Martin Rucker - JR: 53 rec, 511 yards
  • William Franklin - FR: 48 rec, 829 yards
  • Jared Perry - FR: 37 rec, 429 yards
  • Brad Ekwerekwu - SR: 32 rec, 430 yards
  • Tommy Saunders - SO: 25 rec, 271 yards
  • Danario Alexander - FR: 15 rec, 251 yards

Daniel went on to go 287-452 (63.5%), 3,527 yards, 28 TDs, 10 INTs with the help of a receiving corps that was freshman heavy but uber-athletic and on the verge of something great.

Can Luther Burden be William Franklin? Will Tauskie Dove emulate Brad Ekwerekwu’s swan song? Barrett Banister is already doing a damn good Tommy Saunders impression, and you still have Cooper/Lovett/Luper/Miller being rotated in. We know the athleticism is there, it’s just a question of if the production can match. If it out.

CBS Sports

9. If Freshman Luther Burden is Redshirt Freshman Jeremy Maclin

Obviously Maclin was a year older in his first year than Luther will be in his first year so it’s not a 1:1 comparison (and that’s not even mentioning Maclin coming off of a season-ending injury). But, just for fun, here’s what Jeremy Maclin did in his first year as a Tiger:

  • 80 rec, 1,055 yards, 9 TDs / 51 rushes, 375 yards, 4 TDs/ 43 kick returns, 1,039 yards, 1 TD / 25 punt returns, 307 yards, 2 TDs

Absurd, right? And certainly not something we should expect from Luther. To wit, last year’s #1 receiver in the country, Emeka Egbuka, had 9 catches for 191 yards at Ohio State. In fact, if you take every freshman receiver from last year that actually played and averaged out their stats, you come to a stat line of 16 catches, 231 yards, 1.68 (2) TDs. I think Burden can do better than that but it takes a phenomenal receiving talent to break defenses in the manner we’re all dreaming of and, obviously, pulling a Maclin drastically changes a season’s win trajectory.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 04 Central Michigan at Missouri Photo by Scott Winters/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

10. If the offensive line levels up again

I’m not sure if it can be done without Hyrin White but, then again, last year’s line was able to overcome the massive contributions of Larry Borom and even improve. If they can seriously swap out an All-SEC center for a freshman and an NFL-caliber tackle with a JUCO, freshman, or career backup, and IMPROVE from last year, then a.) Marcus Johnson is an offensive line wizard, and b.) the ceiling for this team is raised.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 13 South Carolina at Missouri Photo by Scott Winters/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

11. If Jeffcoat and McGuire make the Sam/Ealy leap

Here’s a fun comparison: this is what Michael Sam and Kony Ealy combined to do in 2012 and then in 2013:

Now, here’s that 2012 combined Sam/Ealy performance compared to what Trajan Jeffcoat and Isaiah McGuire combined to do in 2021:

I’ve been waiting for two defensive ends to show up and ball out at the same time for going on seven years now and, one could argue, the stats of last year show a leap for sure (except for sacks). But this might be the year - a former All-SEC end and the breakout disruptor for the Tigers from last year - where two ends at the peak of their abilities team up to unleash unholy hell on their opponents. It would help paper over some obvious defensive shortcomings if they did.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 20 Florida at Missouri Photo by Rick Ulreich/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

12. If Ty’Ron Hopper joins the Weatherspoon/Bolton pantheon

Did he do most of his damage in one game against Missouri last year? Yes. Was he stuck behind two elite-level linebackers while at Florida? Also yes! Hopper’s pedigree is certainly higher than most linebackers that have come to Columbia over the past five years and he will absolutely have a chance at showing what he can do.

Take a look at these stat lines...

  • Player A: 111 tackles, 15 TFLs, 4 sacks, 1 INT
  • Player B: 95 tackles, 8 TFLs, 2 sacks, 5 PDs
  • Player C: 89 tackles, 15 TFLs, 4.5 sacks, 1 FF

Player A is Sean Weatherspoon in his last year at Mizzou. Player B is Nick Bolton in his last year in Columbia. And Player C is Blaze Alldredge last year. I think we’d be good if Hopper logged any of those lines.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: OCT 09 North Texas at Missouri Photo by Rick Ulreich/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

13. If there’s a #1 corner on the roster

We all love Kris Abrams-Draine and believe he was an excellent cornerback last year. But that was when he was covering inside receivers...can he do that against a team’s #1 receiver on the outside? We all love Ennis Rakestraw and believe he can be an excellent cornerback when healthy. But he was injured last year and glitchy as a freshman...what is he like this year? The cornerback room is comprised of seven dudes with a sophomore classification (or less) and experience is the most important aspect of fielding an excellent defensive secondary. Missouri needs a #1 guy that can reliably shadow opponent’s best receiver and then hope the youth thrown at the other receivers can mitigate damage. Even that is not an ideal scenario but you absolutely need at least one for a chance at 10 wins.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 13 South Carolina at Missouri Photo by Scott Winters/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

14. If Martez Manuel channels Pig Brown

You know what helps a young secondary? A kick ass safety. Like Pig Brown? Like Pig Brown!

  • 70 tackles, 8 TFLs, 3 INTs, 1 FF

That was Pig’s stat line over a mere 8 games. Martez should be rocking and rolling in Blake Baker’s “STAR” position that was made for a player just like Martez. If he can be super disruptive in the run and the pass it’ll be yet another piece to aid a young cornerback rotation.

15. “Astral Assistance”

This is part of every magical season. 2007 Missouri needed Colorado and Nebraska to stay down and beat kansas to win the North and, of course, needed every team in the world to lose one game (or two) to wind up at #1 heading into the Big XII Championship. 2013 Missouri needed to either beat Georgia and Florida or hope that they both slipped up twice: even with an unlucky last-second loss to South Carolina, the Tigers made it the SEC Championship and were 60 minutes away from a national championship game appearance. Hell, even Alabama has needed luck to make it in a few of the Playoffs that they’ve won. Or USC in 2004. Or LSU in 2007. Or Auburn in 2010. And Ohio State in 2014. All of these teams won it all, but needed teams around them to screw things up as well.

To win in college football you need to recruit an excellent team, win as many games as possible and hope for some luck. If we get to this point and don’t get the luck we need it’s still an excellent year regardless and would be a problem that, given the run of seasons over the past five years, we’d be happy to have.

So what do you think? Am I way off? How many of these are feasible? I can’t wait to bookmark this and view at the end of the season to see how smart/dumb I was. Until then.... LET’S GO TIGERS.