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Fortifying the trenches should be Mizzou’s top transfer portal priority

If Eli Drinkwitz wants to build on a breakthrough 2023, the performance of the lines should be his top concern.

Missouri football players lift up runningback Cody Schrader after he ran for a 42-yard touchdown in the first quarter of a game against Florida on Saturday, Nov 11, 2023, at Faurot Field in Columbia, Mo. (Cal Tobias/Rock M Nation)

Do you want to read about Deion Sanders for a second? Of course you do!

When Coach Prime strolled into Boulder last offseason with a pocket full of swagger and his Turd Ferguson cowboy hat, he represented a new kind of college football coaching celebrity. He was the inverse of the Kirby Smart’s, the anti-Dabo. Sanders remade his roster through the portal seemingly overnight, swapping out dozens of established veterans for Jackson State carry-overs and high-profile playmakers. Former No. 1 recruit Travis Hunter came along. So did his two sons. Excitement wasn’t bubbling in Boulder. It was erupting.

That momentum rolled over into the new season... until, of course, it rolled right off a cliff. For all the hype Prime’s Colorado Buffaloes generated in the first few months of the season, there’s now just as much, if not more, doubt about the future of the program. And it all leads back to one thing. Well, two things, if we’re being technical.

The trenches. Both of them.

There’s no need to go into how deliriously bad Colorado’s offensive line was last season. If you paid any modicum of attention to the Buffs, you’d know. But did you know that their defensive line was just as bad? They allowed the most rushing yards per game in the Pac-12 and were middle of the pack in terms of QB pressure. Deion brought all of the style and none of the substance. And Colorado paid for it in the end.

But what is this, ESPN? Enough about Colorado! You came here to read about Mizzou!

Mizzou was just about the furthest thing from feeble in the trenches this year. In fact, one could argue their beefy boys were among the country’s best. The offensive line was a semi-finalist (and probably should have been a finalist) for the Joe Moore Award. The defensive line was one of the country’s best in producing havoc. Both units had All-Americans leading the way, young studs backing them up and wily veterans filling in the margins. And Mizzou benefited from it in the end.

Which brings us to the current state of affairs in the college football world. The transfer portal is pop-pop-POPPIN’ and Mizzou hasn’t exactly been content to sit back and watch. They’ve landed two of the portal’s more coveted prospects, shoring up their secondary by bringing Toriano Pride home and replacing Cody Schrader with yet another Doak Award semi-finalist. That’s a lot of flash.

But where’s the substance you may ask? Hopefully, Eli Drinkwitz is asking the same question.

Mizzou is set to lose a number of key contributors on both lines this offseason. Javon Foster will almost certainly hear his name called in the NFL Draft. Xavier Delgado and Marcellus Johnson have run out of eligibility. On the flip side, Darius Robinson is also headed to Sundays. Josh Landry and Realus George, Jr. are saying happy trails after exhausting their college years. Three contributors on each side that need to be replaced.

Certainly there is a lot of depth and youth in both rooms to give Mizzou fans some confidence that the position units are in good shape. But confidence and assurance are two different things. Confidence could lead to a 9-or-10 win follow up season in 2024... or it could lead to a step back. Assurance makes you look at the recently released 2024 schedule and think 8-4 is the floor and 10-2 or 11-1 is the ceiling.

Drinkwitz and staff realize the opportunity that is in front of them. At least, it seems like they do. After all a vast majority of the names they’ve been connected with in the portal are offensive and defensive linemen. And some of the biggest names out there, the ones everyone wants, are at least considering Mizzou’s pitch.

The good times from 2023 can continue rolling in 2024. Prioritizing the continued success of the Tiger trenches will be vital to making it happen. If there’s anything Eli Drinkwitz can learn from Coach Prime in 2024, it’s the importance of substance over style.