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What is Kerrick Jackson’s ‘competitive advantage’ for Mizzou Baseball?

Mizzou baseball cannot win in the SEC based on the typical methods. So where can the Tigers find a competitive advantage?

NCAA BASEBALL: MAY 19 SEC Baseball Tournament - Missouri v South Carolina Photo by Michael Wade/Icon Sportswire/Corbis/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

You know the classic “David vs. Goliath” story? Everyone roots for David, right? Well, what if the story was David vs. 15 Goliaths? That is Missouri’s life as a baseball program in the SEC. It ain’t easy. And it’s not getting any easier.

Enter Kerrick Jackson. The new Missouri baseball coach believes he’s up for what is sure to be a daunting task. Missouri’s baseball program is underfunded relative to the rest of the conference, but it expects better results. How do you close that gap? It depends who you ask. Everyone seems to have a different answer.

“We’re going to have to do something just a little bit different, because we don’t have as much,” Jackson told me earlier this week on 101 ESPN. “But I’m in a situation where I didn’t grow with as much, either. I didn’t devalue myself because my house wasn’t the biggest on the block. I valued myself because I knew who I was and I knew what my upbringing was. My character was second to none, and I was going to go about my business in a first class manner. We have to recruit kids, coaches and people who surround our program who believe just that. Our house doesn’t have to be the biggest on the block, but the people who live in that house have to be the best people on the block.”

The idea that Mizzou “doesn’t have as much” has been a point of contention for... well, years. And I don’t think that’s going to change any time in the foreseeable future. The administration talks around whether or not a more significant investment is coming, but I think we can all read between the lines. I would be shocked if Missouri suddenly invests eight figures into baseball when the football and basketball programs are still in need of investment, as well. Maybe the turf gets an improvement. Maybe the facilities get a slight facelift. Those are superficial changes that could help, but they don’t change the program’s fortunes in the SEC.

Instead, Missouri needs to find its competitive advantage. There is no one specific way to make that happen. It could be something as simple (it’s a heck of a lot harder than it sounds) as identifying and developing pitching in a way other programs can’t or won’t. It could be recruiting a certain type of player that goes overlooked. Nobody within the program will or should say what their specific ‘competitive advantage’ will be, but they need to identify one. Unless they’re able to do more with less, this program will continue to be mired in the same mediocrity it’s been stuck in for much of the past decade.

Mediocre does not play in the SEC.

Let’s go through some numbers. There have been at least eight SEC programs (including future SEC members Oklahoma and Texas) in the final Baseball America top 25 ranking in each of the past six full seasons. At least four of the final top eight teams in the rankings have resided in the SEC in each of those six years. Tennessee and Alabama are ranked 18th and 20th, respectively, in Baseball America’s current top 25 despite both teams finishing 16-14 in conference play. Texas A&M finished below .500 in SEC play and finished the regular season ranked in D1 Baseball’s top 25 rankings.

That is what the Tigers are up against.

Jackson has been a successful coach in his previous stops. Southern was a combined 31-59 in the two seasons prior to his arrival. He went 9-33 in year one, and then improved to 32-24 in year two; good enough to earn the Jaguars a SWAC title and a Regional qualification. He helped Memphis finish with its first winning record in a full season since 2017. He’s bringing back Tim Jamieson. He’s connecting with former players. He’s saying all of the right things.

So, what will a Kerrick Jackson-led Mizzou baseball team look like?

“It’s going to be a dog fight from the first pitch to the last pitch,” Jackson said on 101 ESPN. “If you are in a position where you do come out from the other dugout with a ‘W,’ it will be the hardest thing you have ever gone through. And you will doubt if you ever want to go through it again. ‘Yeah, you got the win, but that took a lot out of us. Are we sure we want to come back tomorrow?’ We have to make teams beat us. We have to minimize our mistakes. It’s going to be a fight from the first pitch to the past.”

Everyone is rooting for Jackson to succeed. He’s already great success story; a local St. Louis product who rose through the ranks and earned his dream job. Now, imagine that story if he succeeds. They make movies about that kind of story.

They do it for a reason, though. It’s remarkably difficult to find a competitive advantage in a conference investing millions to do exactly that. Can Jackson push the limits for Mizzou baseball, despite all of the program’s obvious disadvantages? I certainly hope so. We’re about to find out.