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Mizzou has to get its QB choice right in 2023

With a proven SEC starter, two promising youngsters and a high-profile transfer in the fold, Eli Drinkwitz has to find his guy for 2023.

NCAA Football: Gasparilla Bowl-Wake Forest at Missouri Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports

It’s the most important position in sports. Yes, sometimes cliches can be true.

Even the most casual of football fans can acknowledge the difference that having a great-to-elite quarterback can have on a team. Rams fans saw it when Kurt Warner took over for Trent Green. Chiefs fans saw it in the transition from Alex Smith to Pat Mahomes. Hell, we’ve seen it at Mizzou. When did the program elevate under Gary Pinkel? When Brad Smith started a long line of elite — or at the very least well above average — talents behind center.

No other position in football can match the buoyancy that having a great QB can bring to your program. Eli Drinkwitz should be well aware of this, as he’s successfully been able to inject high-end talent into nearly ever other position on the roster and still can’t get out of the .500 zone.

For a coach who came with a “QB whisperer” reputation, Drinkwitz’s track record at the most important position has been lackluster. His first starter at Mizzou was playing a different position by year’s end. His second starter is about to fulfill his destiny as the best QB in the MAC. And his third starter had to white knuckle through a bum shoulder because the depth behind him wasn’t good enough.

Things should be different now. No one would mistake the talent in Mizzou’s QB room as the best in the country, but there’s enough to make the Tigers a competitive entity in the SEC.

The new guy should inject some serious life into the room. There are reasons to think Jake Garcia won’t live up to his blue-chip pedigree. On the other hand, it’s easy to see how he could. After all, Kirby Moore has some familiarity with elite QBs and may be the coach to bring it out of him. In Drinkwitz’s time as Mizzou’s coach, not one signal caller has boasted Garcia’s pure talent and his experience at a Power Five school. Press the right buttons, and the offense suddenly gets pretty scary.

No one should be writing Brady Cook out of the equation, either. While you have to be honest about Cook’s struggles in 2022, you also have to reckon with two elements nuance. First, he improved throughout the season, putting in his best games as Mizzou scraped their way to bowl contention. Second, he did it all with a shoulder that needed surgical repair. Given a clean bill of health, could Cook be a better version of the guy he was this season? If so, that might be good enough to bridge the gap for Horn or Johnson in 2024.

Speaking of those two, let’s not forget that Drinkwitz has two young highly touted prospects of his own in the room. Horn failed to meaningfully push for snaps as a freshman, but reportedly impressed the staff with his work ethic down the stretch of the season. Is he due for a sophomore leap like his former teammate Dominic Lovett? And while it’s unfair to expect Gabarri Johnson to take the world by storm in summer ball, stranger things have happened. We’ve seen young dual threat QBs get meaningful reserve snaps in black-and-gold. Apologies to Tyler Macon.

In the Drinkwitz era, Mizzou’s QB room has never looked this promising. There’s reason to believe that every scholarship passer could take the reins of the program and make them his own. And with plenty of talent and experience in the room, the cream should rise to the top. You’d be daring to bet on any one of them outright, but isn’t that the point of collecting talent? That one of them will inevitably pan out?

Eli Drinkwitz is entering his make-or-break season as Mizzou’s coach. He’s buffed the roster in almost ever area except for the one that counts the most.

In order to make it, he has to get the QB decision correct.