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State of the Program: Missouri Football, Year 3 under Eli Drinkwitz

I said last week the rebuild is going fine, and it still is. But what does year three look like?

NCAA Football: SEC Media Days Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

You can tell a lot after three years. I’m not sure you can tell everything about how a coaching tenure is going after three years but you should have at least a little bit of a hint.

What’s funny about the Eli Drinkwitz era so far is we know that it’s not going poorly, it’s not going great... after two years it’s been okay.

As we prepare to embark on the third season, how should the season be viewed? What is success?

After navigating the first full year at the helm of the program and making things look easy, Drinkwitz endured a few more bumps in year two. He couldn’t fight the right mix on defense early in the season, and watched his offense flounder a bit later in the year. Last season never got in sync. And again Drinkwitz is having to hit a big reset button on his defense, as he adopts his third Defensive Coordinator in three years.

Where are the expectations this year?

NCAA Football: South Carolina at Missouri Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

I think most of us thought there was a foundation built in Year 1. It seemed like Connor Bazelak cemented himself as the starter for the future. There was enough production coming back from a solid year one that Mizzou could take another step forward.

That step didn’t happen.

Bazelak fought through injuries and struggled to produce consistently. A lack of mobility and inability to run left the offense looking one-dimensional. And any magic his head coach had in year one wore off just a bit.

But as I, as well as others, noted last year... Mizzou Football was a lot closer to being a 3-7 team in year one than even a 6-4 team. They were 5-5 in year one by virtue of winning every close game. Year two saw those numbers even out a bit. They were 2-3 in one score games. And you can see how a little more consistency from either side of the ball last year could have flipped a few results. But that’s also the inherent nature of a mediocre team.

Building consistency is a tough thing. That’s the goal for year 3.

NCAA Football: Missouri at Vanderbilt Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

It was a rare thing for Mizzou to be hitting on cylinders last season. You didn’t have too many examples of the offense working with consistency at the same time the defense was doing the same.

If this program can be consistent it’s easy to see how they can surpass expectations. Whether it’s Brady Cook’s mobility providing a spark the offense needs, or Ty’Ron Hopper filling in running lanes to prevent big plays, each side of the ball needs more consistency.

At this point you’ve gotten game by game predictions from just about everyone. Most seem to think 4-8 is the floor, 8-4 maybe the ceiling. But I tend to look at this season much more through that sense of consistency. Through consistency those small wins throughout the game can turn in the Tigers’ favor. And if you’re winning more in game battles that’s usually enough to get you on the right side of the Win-Loss column. At least if the game is a close one.

So to follow up on the title of this piece about the state of the program... overall I think it’s in a good place. But this is a very pivotal season. The foundation seems to have been rebuilt through good recruiting, and we’re in a bridge where the last remnants of the previous regime are filtering out of the program while the newcomers are hoping to solidify their status. If you see a few more young players taking the field and they show the consistency, then 2022 will be a boon season for Drinkwitz.

But if 2022 looks a lot like 2021, it’s easy to see some patience begin to wear thin. Drink should be looking for the kind of season which will bring more people out to Memorial Stadium. I’m not sure 6-6 is going to convince anyone currently on the fence that he’s the right guy. Even the most ardent supporters are looking for a sign this year. So for Mizzou Football the goal is simple, give us that sign.

It’s that time. It’s game week for Mizzou Football in 2022.