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State of the Program: Missouri Football, Year 2 Under Eli Drinkwitz

Drink has put his stamp on the program and reset expectations, but what is the next step for Missouri?

NCAA Football: SEC Media Days Vasha Hunt-USA TODAY Sports

The beginning of the football season a year ago feels both like it was just yesterday and also a decade ago. As we’ve trudged through a pandemic, opening and closing and reopening businesses, it’s almost hard to believe the football season is just a few days away. In fact, for Nebraska fans, another season of disappointment already kicked off with an early loss to the Illinois Fighting Berts yesterday.

Disappointment hasn’t really been on the menu often in the brief but newsworthy tenure of Eli Drinkwitz at Missouri. From a rocky COVID-impacted season last year where the Tigers overachieved compared to preseason expectations, to an offseason filled with unexpected recruiting wins... things feel different. If you talk to, or read comments from Missouri fans, Drinkwitz has changed and inspired a new outlook for the football program.

Drinkwitz has changed outlooks so much that our own Nate Edwards has had to reset the table on things again and again and again... in an attempt to keep everyone grounded. Plus the annual ‘Count the Ifs’ post was LONG. So it’s a little important, as he often says, to eat your vegetables and realize that while the team exceeded expectations last year it may not be the best thing to assume they’ll exceed them all over again.

Year one provided a foundation

NCAA Football: Georgia at Missouri Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

We tend to remember the good things — beating a depleted LSU squad, handling Kentucky, squeezing out wins over Arkansas and South Carolina — and ignore the bad. But doing that puts us in a position of maybe misrepresenting where the program is. We should probably remember how things went against Mississippi State, Tennessee, and Florida, and of course Alabama and Georgia who are the standard bearers in the conference.

Missouri fell well short in their losses and eked out a few wins, which means they’re certainly a lot closer to being a 3-7 team than even a 6-4 team, if you’re looking at last years efforts.

But this discussion isn’t about where things were last year, or even where they’ll be end up year. This is all about where things are heading. The Tigers have a retooled Coaching staff laced with former NFL experience, they have a Quarterback they believe in, and they’re recruiting like there are holes throughout the rest of the roster.

We know the defense needs to generate more havoc, they need to get to the quarterback more, and get off the field on third down more. We know the offense needs to find more consistency, the Offensive Line needs to find some running lanes for its running backs and time for Connor Bazelak to make throws. The path for a successful season is clear and mostly obvious. I don’t think anyone is expecting Missouri is going to compete for an SEC title, but where was progress made?

Year two should build upon the foundation of Year 1

NCAA Football: Georgia at Missouri Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

The task this season is different than last year. A year ago, it was basically: Survive.

They did that, and even stole a game or two we didn’t full expect. Now what does a step forward look like? Maybe each fan has a vision of what year 2 looks like in their head, but I’m still very uncertain what the end result is. Just... better?

Maybe you lose one or two of the more toss up games, but a possession here or there is mostly immaterial. The program needs to be more competitive against the upper end of the league, while still staying ahead of the dregs, and winning the games they should win. Do those things and you’re likely looking at around a 6-6 / 7-5 type season at the minimum.

If that’s the foundation, the minimum, the floor... what’s the ceiling?

I don’t think anyone expects this team to win the SEC, and while it’s technically within the realm of possibility, the trajectory of the progress made in the last year and a half will be on full display. That progress is as important as the win column this season which is likely more transitional than the team last year.

With the last remnants of the Barry Odom coaching staff having left the building and the operation is completely Eli Drinkwitz’s. There are obviously still recruits from the previous regime on the roster but anyone still left is because they’re useful to those next steps. It’s as important to show progress on the field this season as it’s been for Drink to show us the progress off the field. Excitement is high so it’s important to keep that momentum going and be productive in year two.

It’s game week on the 2021 season.