Saturday, April 29, 2006

2006 Football Preview

By Tiger Fan

Well Tiger fans, the NFL draft is upon us, which means football season is just a few months away. This season will be the first year of the post-Brad era and I think it will provide a clear answer to the question of whether Pinkel will be able to win big games without Brad. I’m not sure he can… but I sure do hope I’m wrong. Who knows? Maybe he’s got another red-shirt freshman waiting in the wings to shock us all like No. 16 did in 2002. Maybe Chase Daniel will make us forget the Brad Smith era faster than we ever thought possible. Maybe Mizzou really will challenge for the Big XII North title this year. Or… maybe they won’t. But either way, it should be fun.

Before I get to my preview, a bit about my ratings system:

A = The Tigers should outplay the opposition at that position in every game.

B = There will be flashes of brilliance, but also some growing pains.

C = Average. We’ve got guys to take up space, but they won’t outplay anyone good.

D = The unit will be okay most of the time, but there will be lapses that hurt the team.

F = Reserved for the positions that are a true liability to the team.

The Offense

Brad Smith has started the last 48 games for the Tigers at QB and holds almost ever significant offensive record in the books. The offense returns eight starters from last year’s squad, but Smith isn’t one of them and that’s bound to slow down the unit’s production. The good news is that Chase Daniel is not exactly a rookie: he played in 10 games last season, including leading a fourth quarter comeback against Iowa State. Let’s hope he continues to improve because if we have learned anything about Pinkel’s offense, it’s how important the quarterback is.

Quarterback – B+

Chase Daniel, Chase Patton, Brandon Coleman

I think Daniel will be a solid player, but it’s the depth of this group that makes me add the plus. If Daniel struggles, don’t be surprised to see Patton get some snaps to prove what he can do. It’s a unique luxury to have a former Elite 11 quarterback as a back-up and Pinkel shouldn’t hesitate to take advantage of it if need be. Of course, if Daniel’s performance in the spring game is any indication (11 of 12 for 120 yards and 2 TDs), there’s nothing to worry about – or else it’s our defense we need to worry about. Hard to say at this point, but SI.com identified Daniel as one of its “Stars of Spring”. Good publicity for an MU player? Best of luck Chase, you’re gonna need it.

Running Back – B-

Marcus Woods, Tony Temple, Jimmy Jackson, Earl Goldsmith, Connell Davis

I’ll reiterate my rating system: expect flashes of brilliance, but a lot of growing pains. The biggest key for this group will be avoiding injuries. Woods and Temple both have star potential, but have struggled with injuries over the last couple seasons (in fact, Temple missed all of spring practice with an injury). The other key will be holding onto the ball. Temple has always had fumbling issues and although Connell Davis has a surprisingly good spring, he put the ball on the turf a lot. Temple has shown the ability to make huge plays in the past, but he has also made critical turnovers. Who will we see this year?

Offensive Line – C+

Tyler Luellen, Monte Wyrick, Adam Spieker, Mike Cook, Joel Clinger

This veteran group of linemen seems to be getting a lot of hype in MU circles and I’m not sure why. Yes, it’s nice to have four returning starters on the o-line, particularly when the group is comprised of all juniors and seniors. But I don’t remember particularly good protection for Brad when he dropped back to pass last year. Since then, the Tigers lost their best o-lineman to graduation (Tony Palmer). I hate to be pessimistic, but I just can’t envision a scenario in which the line is able to improve significantly from one season to the next.

Tight End – A+

Martin Rucker, Chase Coffman, DeQuincy Howard

Tight end is the one position that Mizzou should dominate in every game this season. Most teams would love to have any one of the Tiger starters, much less both. Coffman was a freshman All-American a year ago and Rucker is a sure-fire NFL prospect. As a former tight end, Pinkel loves to run plays for his tight ends and that’s probably a good thing, since his tight ends are his two best offensive weapons. Daniel has already shown that Coffman is one of his favorite targets and I expect that to continue because it seems like no one can guard Coffman one-on-one: The linebackers are too slow and the DBs are too small. The only question is how a team with two All-American tight ends can run four and five wide receiver sets out of the shotgun on every play. Unbelievable.

Wide Receiver – B-

Will Franklin, Brad Ekwerekwu, Tommy Saunders, Greg Bracey

I’m willing to give this group the benefit of the doubt because, with all due respect to Brad Smith, he wasn’t the best passing quarterback ever to line up under center. All the wide receivers knew Brad was looking to run first and even if the ball was thrown in their vicinity, it might not be on target. With Daniel at QB, those excuses are gone. That being said, if the ‘Copter doesn’t take off as a star this season, this group will be mediocre at best. Franklin will have to step up and fill the shoes of the departed Sean Coffey – and Justin Gage before him. He doesn’t have the size of either No. 12, but he has superior speed and has the potential to be a tremendous deep threat. Will he reach his potential? That remains to be seen.

Punting/Kicking – D

Adam Crossett, Matt Hoenes

Yes, I know Crossett made some lengthy kicks late in the season. Yes, I know the coverage last year was worse than the actual punting. Yes, I know he played well in the spring game. But I’m being realistic… has there been any time in the Gary Pinkel era where you ever felt confident – or even comfortable – when it came time for Mizzou to make an important kick? I know I have never had that experience. It should not be a surprise when your kicker makes a field goal. It should not be cause for celebration when a punt goes further than 30 yards. It should not be an adventure every time you line up for an extra point. I hope I’m wrong about all this, but I’m sticking with historical precedent until someone proves me wrong. Crossett, PLEASE prove me wrong!

The Defense

John Kadlec was quoted last week as saying this might be the best Tiger defense he has ever seen at Mizzou – and given how long Kadlec has been watching the Tigers, that is really saying something. But I’m afraid I have to disagree. This is a solid unit, but I’m not even sure it is as good as last year’s squad. The defense lost just four starters, but that includes three members of the secondary. Hopefully some younger players will be able to step up and make plays because Mizzou’s pass defense was already porous with those senior leaders. If not, it could be a long season. The other key is for the Tigers to keep the defense off the field some times. Last year the offense ran more plays than any other team in the country… but they also ran them faster than any team in the country and often went three-and-out. That doesn’t give the D much time to catch its breath.

Defensive Line – B-

Brian Smith, Jamar Smith, Stryker Sulak, Lorenzo Williams

The top four defensive lineman from last season are back, as is regular contributor Xzavie Jackson. Defensive end Brian Smith is already Mizzou’s all-time sack leader and should draw a double team in most games, opening things up for others to make a play. If Pinkel sticks with last year’s game plan, Smith and Stryker Sulak could both play a few downs at linebacker in pass rushing situations. The big test for this defense will be stopping the run up the middle. That task will primarily fall to Jamar Smith and Lorenzo Williams. If you can’t stop the run, it will be very difficult to win in the Big XII.

Linebackers – C+

Marcus Bacon, Dedrick Harrington, Van Alexander, Brock Christopher

Bacon and Harrington head a rather shallow crop of linebackers for the Tigers. The departure of Derrick Ming will hurt the Tigers from both a leadership and playmaking standpoint. Bacon and Harrington are both pretty solid players but they are not the kind of dynamic playmakers the Tigers need in order to dominate defensively. Help could be waiting in the wings. Redshirt freshman Chad Washington has turned some heads in spring practice and recently signed Juco player Quaran Barge will be eligible in the fall. Hopefully, these players will be able to contribute right away.

Secondary – C

David Overstreet, William Moore, Domonique Johson, Darnell Terrell

Gone is the Tiger’s best playmaker from a year ago, Jason Simpson, and the top two corners, A.J. Kincade and Marcus King. The only good news in the secondary is the return of David Overstreet, who led the team in tackles a year ago and has All-Conference potential. The problem is a corps of DBs without much experience. Johnson and Terrell have both shown the ability to make big plays, but they have also been beaten on short passing routes in a defensive scheme that seems to encourage large cushions. Beyond these two, there is very little depth and if either of these two goes down with an injury, the Tigers could be in serious trouble. William Moore has also shown potential at free safety, but he will need to bounce back from an injury in the Independence Bowl. Without Overstreet, this group would be graded as a D.

Kick Returning/Coverage – F

This is a problem every year for the Tigers and there’s no reason to expect that it will get any better this season. Temple and Woods have both shown the ability to make things happen on returns, but it doesn’t happen consistently and the blocking is not good. As for the kicking coverage, it’s always an adventure – an adventure that usually allows several return touchdowns each year.

Game-by-game predictions: 7-5 (4-4)

This season is full of borderline games for Mizzou. They are perfectly capable of beating Texas Tech, Texas A&M, Nebraska and Oklahoma – but they are equally capable of losing those games. This should also be the year for the Tigers to beat the kansas schools – but history has shown us that is not always a given, regardless of the talent. It should be a wild season. The Tigers could finish 6-6 or they could finish 9-3. I’m guessing it’s going to be somewhere in the middle… and another middle-of-the-pack finish in the North. Hopefully, I’m wrong.

Murray State – W

If the Tigers don’t win this game against a I-AA opponent, they should just go ahead and quit… ‘cause it will be an ugly season. But that won’t happen. The Tigers should roll to an easy win (like they do in their first game almost every year), causing fans to become ridiculously optimistic and declare this the best Tiger team in history. That should be fun for a couple weeks.

Mississippi - W

This should be a fun game, and I think the Tigers pull it out. Ole Miss is an SEC school, but not a good one. This should only increase the unfounded euphoria in Tiger nation.

at New Mexico – L

Every year, the Tigers lose one of their non-conference games that should be easy wins (see: New Mexico, Troy, Bowling Green, Bowling Green). Last year it was New Mexico and I think the Lobos will do it again this year. It reminds me very much of the 2001-02 home-and-home series with Bowling Green. When the Falcons came to Columbia, nobody knew they were any good so we started jumping off bridges after the Tigers lost… but as it turned out, they were a pretty good team and made a bowl. Then they killed us the next year at Bowling Green. I think the same thing happens here and all the Tiger fans who had been talking about a Big XII championship for the first two weeks of the season will suddenly declare that the Tigers are terrible. Gotta love Mizzou fans.

Ohio – W

I don’t see the Tigers blowing this one – plus, I’ve got several Bobcat fans coming in for this game, so we have to win. Period.

Colorado – W

Every year it looks like Colorado will have a down year and it seems like every year, they figure out how to pull things together and steal another Big XII North title. But Barnett is finally gone and I don’t think Dan Hawkins will have them playing at a top level in his first season. It will be close, but the Tigers should win the Big XII opener.

at Texas Tech – L

For reasons that I don’t quite understand, Pinkel tends to coach well against Texas Tech. It doesn’t really make any sense, given that Tech passes on almost every down and we can’t usually defend the pass at all. I think Pinkel’s luck runs out this year and we lose a tough one on the road.

at Texas A&M – L

This has less to do with the talent on the field and more to do with the fact that Mizzou tends to struggle on the road. It should be a close game, but I’ll give the edge to A&M because they are playing in College Station.

Kansas State – L

The Tigers blow an easy home win every year and this will probably be it. KSU is not very good… but they haven’t been very good for a few years now and that hasn’t stopped the Tigers from blowing double-digit leads against the Wildcats in each of the last two seasons. I’ve never seen the Tigers beat KSU, so I’m giving the Wildcats the benefit of the doubt until I do.

Oklahoma – W

Almost as predictable as a bad Tiger home loss is an unexpected Tiger home win. I’m going out on a limb and saying that the Tigers shock the Sooners on Oct. 28 and the goalposts come down (in fact, if I wind up attending a wedding on that day instead of the game, it’s almost certain to happen). The Sooner offense is one-dimensional and the defense is not as good as it has been in the past. Pinkel has coached well against Stoops in their two previous meetings and I’m hopeful that will continue. Last time OU came to Columbia, the Tigers were one fake field goal short of a huge upset. I think they get it done this time.

at Nebraska – L

The Tigers should be able to beat Nebraska. After years of futility, they have gotten the monkey off their backs by beating the Huskers two of the last three years. Pinkel is like a completely different coach against Nebraska, taking chances and cutting folks loose to make plays. Despite stealing an Alamo Bowl victory last year, NU is not that good. But the Tigers haven’t won in Lincoln since 1978. That’s almost 30 years. I can’t bet against the Huskers until Mizzou proves they can do it.

at Iowa State – W

I haven’t heard anything about ISU in the offseason. We’ve beaten them the last three seasons. I think the Tigers pick up a rare road win and become bowl eligible.

Kansas – W

Senior Day. In Columbia. The Tiger seniors have never beaten kU. The beakers lost several key players off a good defensive unit and their offense still stinks. If Pinkel can’t motivate his guys to win the Border War, he should be fired. I don’t care how many games he has won and how many bowl games he has made. Four straight losses to mediocre kU teams with inferior talent is unacceptable. Show some heart! Show some pride! If not for the fans, do it for yourselves! And I think they will… capping off another mediocre season for the Tigers.

1 comment:

Born-a-Tiger said...

I must point out that New Mexico lost its best two players—Hank Baskett and DonTrell Moore—which will make it even more embarassing when Missouri loses to los Lobos.