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Is this the year Eli Drinkwitz gets it right at quarterback?

It’s been five years since Missouri had a long-term answer at the quarterback position.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 13 South Carolina at Missouri Photo by Scott Winters/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Am I the only one feeling that? That pull in two different directions? That overwhelming sense of optimism that gives way to a painful sensation of dread?

I’m trying to sort through my feelings about this particular Mizzou football team, in this moment. It’s difficult. There’s a lot to parse through.

The recruiting is on a level unlike anything I’ve seen before in my time as a Mizzou fan. The defense made a leap last season that even the most optimistic Mizzou fans never expected, and the vast majority of the key contributors return for another season. The head coach seems to be figuring out how to manage things as a CEO. There is real synergy between the head football coach, the athletic director and the powers that be in Jefferson City for the first time in a decade. It really seems like things might be coming together.

But there’s still one piece of the puzzle that doesn’t seem to fit. Not yet, at least.

No biggy, it’s the skeleton key that makes everything work not just for this team, but for the program over the long haul. Anyone know if the Tigers have an answer at the quarterback position? Anyone? ‘Cuz I sure don’t.

I’m probably a bigger Brady Cook fan than most. I think he was given some unfair criticism last season. He wasn’t great. But he was mostly fine, and he was playing under less-than-ideal circumstances. The kid had a bum shoulder and an offensive line that needed a complete overhaul in the offseason. That’s not nothing.

But that doesn’t mean I’m not skeptical. I have no idea if Cook is the long-term answer at quarterback. He’s almost certainly not the player who takes Mizzou from good to great. Is that player on the roster?

This is the biggest question that must be answered if Missouri is going to have any kind of sustained success under Drinkwitz’s leadership. We’ve spent countless hours talking about what made Gary Pinkel’s tenure at Mizzou so successful. Ultimately, it came down to one thing: he always had a plan at the most important position in sports.

Seriously, it was like clockwork. When one quarterback left, another emerged. And it wasn’t one-year stop-gaps, either. He had an answer for that season and at least the next on the roster at any given time.

I mean, look at this stretch of quarterbacks:

  • 2002 - 2005: Brad Smith
  • 2006 - 2008: Chase Daniel
  • 2009 - 2010: Blaine Gabbert
  • 2011 - 2013: James Franklin
  • 2014 - 2015: Maty Mauk
  • 2016 - 2018: Drew Lock

That’s a 17-year stretch of having a defined plan at quarterback going into every single season. Every single season Missouri went into the season believing that it had someone behind center that it could win with for that year and the next. That hasn’t been the case at Missouri since Lock left campus.

  • 2019 - Kelly Bryant (SR) - 62%, 2,215 yards, 7.6 YPA, 15 TD, 6 INT, 242 rush yards, 1 TD
  • 2020 - Connor Bazelak (SO) - 67%, 2,366 yards, 7.3 YPA, 7 TD, 6 INT, 20 rush yards, 2 TD
  • 2021 - Connor Bazelak (JR) - 65%, 2,550 yards, 6.8 YPA, 16 TD, 11 INT, -23 rush yards
  • 2022 - Brady Cook (SO) - 65%, 2,740 yards, 7.2 YPA, 14 TD, 7 INT, 585 rush yards, 6 TD

The Tigers did well to bring in Bryant, but he was always a one-year fix. Bazelak had his moments, but we all knew the upside was limited and ultimately he made too many negative plays for a quarterback with very little ability to push the ball down the field. And that brings us to today.

Is Cook the answer? Can Sam Horn be the answer? That’s the question that will define Missouri’s season. Don’t get me wrong, it would be great if Missouri finishes the season 8-4. But if the Tigers finish 8-4 with questions remaining at quarterback, did they really accomplish what they set out to do going into the season?

The Tigers have so many things heading in the right direction. The pieces are in place for this program to not only get back on track, but to be a competitive program again in the SEC. The ceiling of this process will be defined by the team’s ability to figure it out at quarterback. I hope that answer is on campus.

The team’s ability to accomplish both its short and long-term goals depends upon it.