Missouri is unlikely to win on Saturday when they take the field to face off in the Tigers’ season-opener against Alabama. I hope that wasn’t breaking news for you.
The Tigers come into the game as a 27.5-point underdog. To take it a step further, Vegas will give you 14-to-1 odds if you pick the Tigers straight up to win the game. To put that in perspective, Texas A&M has the fourth best odds to win the SEC behind Alabama, Georgia and Florida. Their odds? 14-to-1.
Yes, you read that correctly. Vegas believes Texas A&M is as likely to win the conference as the Tigers are to win on Saturday. Buckle up. This could be a bumpy ride.
But that doesn’t mean there isn’t anything we can take away from this game. Missouri is taking the field for the first time under Eli Drinkwitz with a new quarterback, two new starting wide receivers and a revamped defense.
So what should you be watching for in what Vegas thinks is going to be a bit of a mismatch?
Who starts at quarterback, and how do they play?
I know, I know. It’s the obvious question. But it’s the obvious question for a reason. We still don’t know who will start at quarterback for the Tigers on Saturday. Will it be Shawn Robinson or Connor Bazelak?
More importantly, how do they play when they enter the game? It’s one thing to start week one against Alabama. It’s another thing entirely to earn the starting job for the season.
I fully expect to see both Robinson and Bazelak play at some point on Saturday. Playing well against the Tide would go a long way toward earning more playing time in the future.
One thing in particular I’ll be looking for is an ability for both quarterbacks to prevent the “blowup play.” I’m talking about sacks, fumbles and interceptions. Those negative plays will crush your chances against a team like Alabama, but they also kill drives and momentum against every other team on the schedule. These quarterbacks need to keep the offense on schedule, limit blowup plays and show a couple flashes. If they can do that, week one will be considered a success.
How does the new offensive (and defensive?) scheme look?
I’m not going to judge much about the execution of Drinkwitz’s offense this week. The Tigers are starting a backup at left tackle, and the Alabama defense is quite the mismatch.
But I will be looking for how the Tigers utilize their weapons.
Does Drinkwitz put Larry Rountree III and Tyler Badie on the field at the same time? How will tight ends be used in this offense? How much creativity is there by Drinkwitz to get Mizzou’s playmakers the ball in their hands in open space? And how does Drinkwitz make the game easier for his quarterback while playing behind a banged up offensive line against an imposing Alabama defense?
The questions aren’t limited to the offensive side of the ball. We also got word from defensive coordinator Ryan Walters this week that the Tigers have “officially” made the change to classify edge rushers as outside linebackers this season. Maybe that doesn’t matter. Missouri certainly played some 3-4 a year ago. But given Mizzou’s depth along the interior - and their lack of it at edge rush - it would make sense to transition to a 3-4 to get more big guys on the field up front and to limit the use of the edge rushers. We’ll see if that’s the route they go, but it’s certainly worth watching.
Are the newcomers as advertised?
We’ve heard all offseason about how dominant graduate transfer wide receiver Keke Chism has been at fall camp. Can he translate that to the game environment against some of the most talented cornerbacks he’ll see all season?
What can freshman cornerback Ennis Rakestraw do against Alabama receivers Devonta Smith and Jaylen Waddle? Both are potential top 50 picks in next year’s NFL Draft. That’s quite the challenge in Rakestraw’s first college football game.
Can graduate transfer center Michael Maetti hold up against a star-studded defensive line? Is Junior College transfer Zeke Powell ready to start at left tackle? Can graduate transfer wide receiver Damon Hazelton continue his red zone dominance? How many other freshmen see playing time in the first half?
Games like this aren’t about winning or losing. It would be great to win, sure, it’s just highly unlikely. There was one upset in college football last season with a bigger point spread than the 27.5 points that currently separate Mizzou against Alabama on Saturday.
The Tigers are finally back on the football field. There was a time we weren’t sure if this would happen. So enjoy it. Even if the scoreboard gets a little lopsided.