It’s been a long time since Mizzou fans had to worry who would be behind center headed into the season. It’s been even longer since they had to worry about that and a new head coach.
But this is the situation that Mizzou finds itself in headed into the already unpredictable 2020 college football season. The program has been in an unusually fortunate position over the past decade or so when it came to assuredness at QB. Perhaps the most conflicted Tiger fans have had to feel in the past decade was in 2013, when James Franklin and Maty Mauk traded off helming arguably the best Tiger offense of the 2010s.
It’s not as if a majority of the faces running Eli Drinkwitz’s offense are brand new to the roster — far from it. Three of the four QBs on the depth chart have spent more than a year as Tigers, while two have seen game action. But it’s hard to have a ton of confidence in your skillset when the odds-on favorite is a transfer who hasn’t played a football game in close to two years and the contenders are a perennial backup, a true freshman and a guy coming off of ACL surgery.
Despite the less-than-ideal circumstances Missouri finds itself in, however, the 2020 quarterback competition could be a boon for the new Missouri head coach as he seeks to make the program his own.
As an offensive mind, Eli Drinkwitz’s reputation precedes him. Drink has trained up and coached some of the most exciting college QBs of the past few years and has done it without too much of a preference on what sort of weapon he wants taking snaps. He was at Auburn when Cam Newton bulldozed the entire country en route to the 2010 title. He stewarded Ryan Finley at Boise and North Carolina State, all the way to Finley’s selection in the 4th round of the 2018 NFL Draft. And he oversaw Zac Thomas’ underrated, workmanlike approach during his lone 12-1 season at Appalachian State.
With a diverse selection of QB styles on his resume, Drinkwitz might even be licking his chops with the options before him. Shawn Robinson is a standard game-breaker, capable of making big plays in the by air or by land. Connor Bazelak might be recovering from an injury, but he proved early on that he can combine a long ball with some sneaky athleticism. Brady Cook represents a traditional big armed gunslinger Drinkwitz could train up over the next few years. Drinkwitz has also proven that he can spot talent from afar, landing the commitment of one of 2021’s fastest-rising QBs in Tyler Macon.
And while the cornucopia of options at Drinkwitz’s disposal may be enticing, it’s the principle of the thing that has to be really intriguing for a young, hungry coach like Drink. For the majority of his career, Drink has been on the figurative sidelines, assisting his head coaches in finding the right guys to win the most games in the way the boss wanted it done. At Appalachian State, Drinkwitz was able to install an offense, but was given the inflexible luxury of an already-installed QB.
Year One in Columbia represents an opportunity the likes of which Drinkwitz has never had. Not only does he get the final say in who gets the ball against Alabama on September 26, he also gets to set the standard of what QBs must do to earn a spot on his depth chart. We often talk about, “culture,” in the realm of college sports, and any first year coach’s job is to set the culture for his team — the earlier the better. The easiest way to do so is to get your team leaders on board. And what better way to get your team leaders on board than to thoroughly evaluate and hand pick the most important position on the field without any sort of pre-ordained expectations?
For years, the Missouri QB situation has been like a procession, each QB waiting his turn to grab the spotlight. Is there value in that sort of stability? Of course, and you won’t hear me argue about it. But is there also value in a hard reset and a new governing perspective? You can at least see the value of hope in that, right?
So as the next few weeks of camp unfold and we scrap for daily updates about Shawn Robinson’s out routes or Connor Bazelak’s deep ball, be sure to take a breath. If you trust Drinkwitz — and, hey, you have no reason not to! — you’ll trust that whomever he chooses will represent a step toward the new heights the new coach has so often talked about in his short time at Missouri.