Blaine Gabbert may be gone to the NFL but Al Dannity doesn’t expect the Tigers to miss a beat. Missouri will be a power in the slimmed-down Big 12 this season.
The schedule The fatter conference slate, with 9 games now instead of the previously customary 8, means Missouri will only have one significant non-conference test. That comes at Arizona State on September 10. There will be no time to adjust to Big 12 play with a trip to Norman on September 24 kicking off the Tigers conference schedule.
Following that date with the Sooners, the next big date for Missouri is October 22 when the Tigers welcome Oklahoma State to Columbia. That’s the start of the toughest stretch of the season for Missouri, with subsequent games at Texas A&M, at Baylor, and then at home to Texas. As always, the regular season ends with a battle against Kansas in the Border War.
The players Blaine Gabbert may be gone but the bulk of the offense he ran is still there. That’s great news for sophomore quarterback James Franklin. He leads a unit that returns 9 starters, including All-Big 12 selections T.J. Moe (wide receiver) and Michael Egnew (tight end).
The defense isn’t quite as stacked, with only 6 starters from 2010 back for this season. There is still plenty of talent to be found in this unit. Jacquies Smith and Brad Madison will ensure the defensive line is amongst the most feared in the conference this year.
The forecast Adjusting to life without Blaine Gabbert need not be too painful but it’s still difficult to see the Tigers challenging for conference honors with a new starter under center. Starting Big 12 play against Oklahoma could really dampen any momentum built up from non-conference play. I’m hardly showing my hand here by announcing the Sooners as my favorites for the conference, everybody else is tipping Oklahoma too.
There’s also that four-game stretch down the middle of the season. It’s not implausible that all four of those foes will be ranked when they face the Tigers. Were those games scattered more along the schedule it would be easier to envision a sweep but maintaining peak levels through all four is a big ask. I expect Missouri to stand their ground in 2011, winning a couple of games they should lose but losing one or two that they should win. A 9-3 season will be enough to ensure a high, if not stratospheric, finish for Gary Pinkel’s team.