Earlier we provided a Q&A preview about what we thought would happen when Mizzou comes to Lincoln for the first Big 12 conference game this season. Mizzou blog Rock M Nation provided the questions, and CN's author's provided the answers.
For this version, CN's authors have asked the questions with Rock M Nation responding.
1. Will the loss of Martin Rucker and thusly the dual TE threat that Missouri had for a few years hurt the offense at all?
RMN: Losing your school's career receptions leader always stings, although Coffman (who already owns the receiving touchdowns record) should claim that title as his own at some point during the year. Rucker was Daniel's security blanket and almost automatic when around the first down marker. But I think the offense will still function fine without Rucker's half of the much-discussed TE duo just because of the amount of talent that's still around. Where Rucker's loss hurts the most is in the locker room, where he and Lorenzo Williams took on so much of the senior presence last year. I think much of the team's focus and motivation last year is a testament to Rucker and Williams, and I think that's harder to replace than his production.
2. Who should we expect to see shine from the offense besides Chase Daniel? Give us a name we haven't heard.
RMN: Jeremy Maclin is a cop out answer, Danario Alexander is still picking up pieces of his ACL, and Chase Coffman generates a fair bit of respect. Two guys you probably haven't heard of that are stepping into vital roles are RB Derrick Washington and WR Jared Perry. Washington, who is part of a RB trio that tries to replace Tony Temple, is arguably the most complete back in the set. He's a smart runner with good hands out of the backfield, but his blocking ability could be an important storyline as the year progresses. Perry was solid as a freshman in 2006 (including torching future 1st rounder Aqib Talib on a slant rount for a 74-yard touchdown) but saw his numbers drop last year. Reports are that he was outstanding in Spring ball, and Mizzou will need him even more with Alexander recovering from injury.
3. What's the best case scenario (including schedule) for Mizzou in '08? The worst?
RMN: The best case scenario, as "kool-aid" as it sounds, is to run the table in the regular season and take care of business at the Big 12 Championship close to home in Kansas City and pray for a shot at the National Title, where all bets are off. The worst case scenario (barring a major injury to key players) includes a season opening loss to Illinois, continuing their futility in Lincoln with a loss to the Huskers, a loss to Texas in Austin, and a blowup against Kansas in the season finale. So, best case would be 13-0 with a Big 12 Championship headed to the Title game, and worst case would be 8-4 (again, barring injury). I'll hold off on my actual predictions until the season draws closer, but don't mistake either the best or worst case scenarios for a season prediction.
From Husker Mike:
1. Missouri's defense wasn't particularly strong in September last year, but turned it around against Nebraska. What changed, and will that carry over into 2008?
RMN: At the bye week before Big 12 play last year, coordinator Matt Eberflus reexamined the defense and made some adjustments to play to his playmakers' strengths rather than forcing them to adapt to a scheme. I'd love to sit here and give all the credit to Eberflus for the X's and O's. but if you ask me, it was a problem of motivation. The Nebraska game brought out a different intensity than I'd seen from a Missouri defense, and once they figured out they could play that way, they found ways to carry it through the rest of the conference season against anyone not named "Oklahoma."
2. Much has been made about the "Pinkel Factor" in recent years. Do Missouri fans believe it's real, and if so, is it lying in wait (perhaps overdue) or did 2007 exorcise it from Mizzou football?
RMN: Missouri fans very much believed it was real before and even during the early part of last year, but you'd be surprised how silent they are on the subject these days. 2007 bought A LOT of good will for Pinkel and Co. in most circles. Perhaps the prevailing thought is that, maybe if we don't talk about it, it will just go away.
3. Most pundits thought Missouri would be good last season... but virtually nobody expected them to be ranked #1 in the country at the start of December. How will the Tigers react to expectations and being the hunted instead of hunters?
RMN: That's the million dollar question. If I could answer that question perfectly, I'd either be on Wall Street or in Las Vegas. This team fed off of the "Nobody believes in us" attitude last year and then had it shoved back in their face in San Antonio against OU. Guys like Daniel and Sean Weatherspoon are taking it personally to make sure this team stays focused, but I honestly can't tell you how they'll handle having the target on their collective chest. One can only hope.
From Corn Blight:
1. It's been 30 years since the Tigers won in Lincoln, Nebraska. In the last 5 games in Lincoln, Missouri has scored 20 (2006), 3 (2004), 13 (2002), 24 (2000) and 13 (1998) points. Why should Husker fans believe that this year won't be any different than recent history?
RMN. They should believe it's different for several reasons:
A) Senior Chase Daniel has played in big environments whereas sophomore Chase Daniel had not.
B) Bo could do great things with the Husker defense, but do you expect the Blackshirts you knew and loved to be roaring at full capacity by the conference opener?
C) Mizzou got sick of hearing about long losing streaks in Boulder and Manhattan last year, so they went out and beat CU and KSU by a combined score of 104-42. As much as it means to fans and bloggers, recent history means little to this team.
2. If Chase Daniel goes down with an injury, what happens to Missouri's season?
RMN: I curl into the fetal position, begin crying profusely, and begin looking for a new deity who refuses to forsake me during football season. Oh, you meant the season? I'm not going to say they won't miss a step, because no team does that when a Heisman hopeful goes down. But redshirt senior Chase Patton is extremely serviceable as a backup, and was even more highly regarded as a recruit than Daniel, turning down offers from the likes of Tennessee and UCLA to stay home in Columbia. He doesn't have the improvisational skills, the pinpoint accuracy, the swagger or the experience of Daniel, but he can keep the offense moving at a respectable pace. Plus, if Daniel goes down, that puts Missouri's favorite native son, Blaine Gabbert, one play away from taking the reigns. And, yes, I totally just wanted to drop his name.
3. Do you think that Missouri has a legimate shot at a national title this coming season, and if so, what do they have to do to get there?
RMN: Do they have a legitimate shot? I think you could make the case for them, but you could do the same for about 10 teams this year, as there seems to be no consensus national favorite. Mizzou has to maintain focus and they have to stay healthy. The schedule, outside of the Illinois game and the trips to Lincoln and Austin, sets up VERY nicely. But the biggest hurdle to that becoming a reality is the Big 12 Championship, where I fully expect Oklahoma to be waiting. The fact that the game will be held at Arrowhead just after the KU game certainly plays in Mizzou's favor, but Mizzou is 0-for-1 in games of the "Big 12 Championship and a shot at the National Title" magnitude. I think they can get to that stage fine, but what happens once they get on the stage will play out in every Mizzou fan's mind for the next five months.