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A Fan’s Notes: Moving Into the Gated Community

Notes, thoughts, and observations from halfway across the country on a critical month for the future of the Missouri Tigers football program

NCAA Football: South Carolina at Missouri Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

Usually in this space my assignment is to offer some amateur analysis and observations from afar on the previous week’s Missouri game. I try to put things in context for what it means for the team for the rest of the season: if a player is beginning a breakout, if a down statistical week for Luther Burden actually meant he was creating opportunities for others, if a nagging injury might become something more. But there was no game to reflect on this week.

Instead, I’m going to use this space to reflect on what Missouri has achieved over the past two months, and put it in context for what the program can become in the future under the direction of Eliah Drinkwitz and Desiree Reed-Francois.

What can the Tigers do to build on these two months? Part of the answer to that question is: can Missouri redefine what a successful season is for the program? From 2007-2014, good years meant double-digit wins. Since then, a good year has meant a bowl appearance.

Kentucky football under Mark Stoops has received a lot of attention for being “the gate” of the SEC East; his program basically never beats a team better than his own, but consistently keeps the littles in line. Missouri could easily step in to that role and be the gate; but I think the program could tap into something more and live inside the gated community.

Without divisions in the SEC, and with the arrival of two more blue bloods, Missouri will realistically have very little chance of making it to Atlanta for a title game again. But that’s okay: there’s still plenty to accomplish as a program without playing one game in early December. While the Tigers will never match what Georgia has done in the past three years, why can’t they match what Ole Miss has done?

Here is a rough list of some realistic things Missouri could do to keep momentum rolling into the new SEC, and take up a residence on the good side of the gate.

  1. Beat one of Tennessee/Georgia: entering the season, the Tigers were significant underdogs on paper to three SEC teams. They have already lost the home contest to LSU, but the gap in power ratings has narrowed between Mizzou and Tennessee. Simply put, Mizzou must get one of these wins. You want to live inside the gated community? Show you belong.
  2. Win a good bowl game: not mandatory, but good overall for vibes and respect. Show you belong by handling a peer from a different conference. Show you belong by being another bullet point in SEC supremacy.
  3. Keep the returning core of the roster together. This is probably the easiest one on the list; I trust Eli Drinkwitz’s locker room culture and Mizzou’s NIL infrastructure to keep the important pieces intact. A number of Tigers will be graduating or moving to the NFL; keeping the remaining returning starters in the fold will be paramount for maintaining a winning roster and cohesive culture.
  4. Keep Kirby Moore. Keeping both coordinators would be nice, but Blake Baker has done a marvelous job here and it would be understandable if he left for a better job. Kirby Moore has brought excellent wrinkles to the Drinkwitz offense, and it sure seems like the deputy has pushed the sheriff to change his stodgy ways. Another season would further steep Moore’s principles into Drinkwitz’s playbook, and would mean stability with this new and improved offense. A reset would not be unnavigable, but it would be less than ideal.
  5. Reload positions of need with more P5 transfers: one aspect of the roster-building that has defined Eli’s tenure is well-scouted Power Five transfers, often with a few years of eligibility left, and especially on defense. Look at the results: basically the entire defensive tackle rotation, half the defensive backfield, Ty’Ron Hopper, Theo Wease, Nathaniel Peat, Mookie Cooper. The staff has shown a clear preference for this kind of player, and it is exciting to know the team can use savvy scouting and NIL funding to add another round of veterans to the mix.
  6. Round out the HS class: It seems clear Drinkwitz and his staff are marrying the portal strategy with a deliberate shrinking of the amount of high school signees taken. Instead of a full class of 20+ kids, the staff is looking at some high profile blue chippers with high upside athletes, to match with your known commodity veteran additions. While the recent loss of Ryan Wingo stings, the class still has a high “pound for pound” rating, so to speak.
  7. Continue to develop in-state pipelines: Efforts on the recruiting can shape your program for a generation. The revitalized relationship with St Louis remains an utmost priority. Keep working on securing the borders, keep working on building relationships with St Louis and Kansas City. The talent to take another step is right here, sharing your state.

Many of these points are obvious (you should have good players if you want to win football games). The in-state pipeline is something Missouri has dreamt about for decades. But with Eli Drinkwitz’s savvy roster building, his excellent hand-picked coaching staff, alignment from the AD through the football building and down to the collectives, this is an opportunity for Missouri to make a move into the upper-middle class of the SEC. And it all starts on the field in November 2023.