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Is Sam Horn closing in on the Mizzou starting quarterback role?

Eli Drinkwitz says Cook and Horn will both play against South Dakota State. Does that give us any insight into who’s ahead?

Sam Horn throws a ball during a 2023 fall camp practice Twitter: @MizzouFootball

We’re less than one week out from Mizzou’s opening game of the 2023 campaign. A starting quarterback has not been named.

This is a good thing!

Conventional wisdom suggests that the more stability you have going into the season, the quicker you can hit the ground running. This is certainly what Eli Drinkwitz must have been thinking when he named Brady Cook the starting quarterback less than a week into the fall camp of 2022. That or, “Ah, hell, my quarterbacks suck.” Either way, giving the offense confidence that Cook would be lining up behind center allowed them to get a full camp of reps developing the relationship between their quarterback and everyone else on the field.

How much good did that stability do the Tigers in the season? Depends on your perspective. You could argue Mizzou gets to 6-6 largely because of Brady Cook’s improved play in the second half of the season. You could argue that a more open competition in camp might have led to greater dysfunction throughout the season and, therefore, a worse record. You could also argue that an open competition might have given players like Sam Horn or, uh, Jack Abraham the ability to open up the ceiling of what Mizzou’s offense was with Cook under center.

Regardless, it’s easy to see that Drinkwitz prioritized stability over all else in 2022. In 2023, however, he’s throwing that out the window. To me, that suggests there’s a real question of who makes this team better. Not in 2025. Not in 2024. Now.

Sam Horn’s time at Mizzou has been eventful, to say the least. His time on the sidelines last season was marred by rumors of indifference. His time on the baseball field was marred by an injury. Once branded as the heir apparent to the great Tiger quarterbacks of yore, Sam Horn has been recruited “over” not once, but twice. Jake Garcia and Gabarri Johnson are just waiting for you to mess up, buddy.

I’m intrigued, then, by the fact that Drinkwitz hasn’t cast him to the second string with less than a week to go until the 2023 season kicks off.

Look, I’m not blind — all signs are pointing to Brady Cook getting the starting nod for the majority of the season. He’s a team captain. He’s shown he can be at least an average starter in the country’s toughest conference, if not better when he’s healthy. He’s got an NIL deal with Imo’s (and in this house, that means something!)

But Sam Horn is still kicking around. Drinkwitz is giving him first-team reps in open practices. He’s quietly pulled away from the Miami transfer and the shiny new blue-chipper as an obvious threat to Cook’s role. This, despite the fact that we have nothing to go on but a former recruiting profile and some vague idea of NIL investment. To me, that suggests there may be something here.

It also must be mentioned that of all the seasons for Eli Drinkwitz to prioritize stability, this would be the one. His job is likely secure through 2024 due to the contract extension and raise he received last year. But Eli Drinkwitz has publicly acknowledged that Mizzou has to do something this year. With an elite defense returning nearly every contributing piece and the majority of an elite recruiting class coming of age, the iron has never been hotter. Drink has to show some sort of measurable progress. Otherwise, the onus is put on 2024 when things could get ugly. Fast.

Why not go with the proven commodity at the most important position in a season that means so much to his job security and the program’s trajectory? We know he can win you at least 6 or 7 games at half-capacity. Surely he could do more now that he’s healthy. There is no incentive for Drinkwitz to gamble at the quarterback position, not personally or collectively.

Unless, of course, the payout with Sam Horn has the potential to be lucrative.

This could all be moot one week from today. Mizzou may go out next Thursday and watch Brady Cook put up a perfectly efficient, convincing stat line while Sam Horn struggles to make an impact against an FCS defense. Bing, bang, boom, congrats on the starting role, Mr. Cook. Please face the camera, your line is, “The Square Beyond Compare!” Action!

But Eli Drinkwitz is clearly invested in giving Sam Horn a real chance at winning the starting quarterback role. Otherwise, he wouldn’t be giving him meaningful snaps in a real game. He would’ve solidified Brady Cook’s role at the top of the food chain weeks ago. Horn would be plugging away with the second-team, waiting for misfortune to cast him into the spotlight that once seemed destined for him.

It’s good that Brady Cook and Sam Horn are racing toward the finish line. It suggests there’s real competition at the top, which can only mean good things for the Mizzou offense in 2023. Does it mean running the risk of the offense needing to work things out on the fly for the first few weeks? Sure. But you’ll never raise the ceiling if you’re only focused on solidifying the floor.

Stability be damned.