The air echoes with the nervous laughter of schoolchildren braving the start of a new grade and the susurrus of falling leaves, and the energies of the BC staff turn towards the merciless slander careful evaluation of our Big Ten Nine Twelve brethren. I was honored to take on the task of writing the 2011 State of the Union for the Missouri Tigers, and it was with an air of hopeful anticipation that I submitted my effort.
Unfortunately, upon senior management’s review of said effort, I learned that our preseason allotment of meth, crime, welfare, incest and Powerball jokes have been almost entirely spoken for by more senior writers doing their own SOTU’s. With about 93% of my first draft thereby invalidated, I decided to take a different tack and lead off with a discussion about the much-debated pronunciation of the state (and, by extension, the state school in question). As you’re probably aware, there are two dominant schools of thought on this topic, and I think each one provides an interesting window into the psyche and outlook of its adherents.
The first school holds that the pronunciation is Mizz-oor-EEEE. I think this is the view held by the optimistic, glass half full type of person. The EEEE! calls to mind an excited, girlish giggle – the type of sound a young lady might make when, caught up in the heady throes of her own blossoming sexuality, she coquettishly lifts her skirt towards that older, cooler, wealthier guy. The guy who lives on the north side of town who, if properly seduced, could whisk her away from her ever-so-drab group of friends to an uptown life of glitz, glam and A-list parties (for the sake of this discussion, let’s call the guy in question “Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany”). It’s an EEEE! resplendent with confidence and hope for the future.
The second school holds that the pronunciation is Mizz-oor-UH. These people are the glass half empty, pessimistic Berts to the EEEE! school’s optimistic Ernies. The UH seems appropriate to a moment of unwelcome recognition – the type of sound a young lady might make when she sees one of her hotter, sluttier friends climbing into that older guy’s IROC-Z and peeling out of the parking lot (for the sake of this discussion, let’s call the friend in question “Nebraska”). The UH could also serve as a convenient verbal pause when she turns to see her friends standing in a semicircle, drumming their fingertips on crossed arms, and realizes that maybe she shouldn’t have made all those Facebook posts about ‘ditching these bitches for life with Jim’. It’s an UH that betokens the realization that you’re nowhere near as hot or desirable as your youthful delusion had led you to believe.
EEEE! or UH? It’s an age-old question that I, as a service to our dear BC readers, will answer definitively at the end of this piece. But first, let’s use these opposing worldviews as a prism through which we can evaluate the prospects for the 2011 Missouri Tigers.
Gone is Blaine Gabbert, lost to the Tigers in the Hilarious QB Overdrafting Fandango otherwise known as the 2011 NFL Draft. Two competing academic theories have emerged to explain the absurdity of the quarterback selections last April. The first is that 2011 served as the Bizarro 1983 Draft that yielded Hall of Famers John Elway, Jim Kelly and Dan Marino. Under this theory Gabbert may be Bizarro Todd Blackledge, as he is likely the only one with a scintilla of a chance of accomplishing anything in the league. A lesser-known but equally compelling theory holds that the draft actually served as a harbinger of the Mayan End Times. Carvings in the ruins of Palenque have been deciphered to read:
Four war chiefs shall be chosen in error to lead their peoples. The stones they cast shall miss their marks, and their spears will fly wild into the jungle. Their peoples will curse the gods in defeat, and the Lightning Deity and the Earth Crocodile will grow wroth and drown the world.
While Gabbert is busy playing Four Horsemen with Newton, Locker and Ponder, the Tigers turn to sophomore James Franklin to run the show. The EEEE! crowd will tell you that Franklin is well suited to the sideline and underneath routes that make up the backbone of the Mizzou offense, and that he’ll also bring a greater degree of zip to their zone read and option-based ground attack. The UH bunch will no doubt express concern about how Franklin will react when a game hangs in the balance, or when he’s actually asked to throw the ball more than ten yards in the air.
It’s been a while since Missouri featured a really standout running back, but they are more than capable of penetrating the defense if you sleep on them. In his search to replace the felonious Derrick Washington, coach Gary Pinkel apparently eschewed recruiting in favor of hitching a ride with Jango Fett to the planet Kamino and placing an order for a trio of identical young backs. Senior De’Vion Moore (5’9”, 195), junior Kendial Lawrence (5’9”, 190) and soph Henry Josey (5’10”, 180) attack with numbing waves of repetitiveness typically reserved for dying Midwestern towns and the lyrics to Britney Spears’ Womanizer. To the EEEE!s, it’s a dynamic stable of backs that only figure to improve on last season’s 5.8 YPC, 1500 yard rushing attack with a running QB at the helm. The UH crowd wonders what any of these guys will do to scare a defense out of spreading wide to disrupt the short passing game or teeing off on Franklin when he runs option.
Missouri returns the bulk of its receiving corps from last season’s 33rd-ranked passing attack. While these guys are no stooges, they are led by Moe – junior T.J. Moe, who racked up over a thousand yards and 92 catches as a sophomore while displaying the type of grit, hustle and Caucasianity that Missouri fans are always wont to embrace. Iowa spectacularly failed to block Moe’s signature two-fingered eye poke last season as he torched them for an absurd 15 catches. Moe is joined by the talented but inconsistent Jerrell Jackson, another Gritty McHustle type in senior Wes Kemp and tall, slender sophomore Marcus Lucas. Those in an EEEE! frame of mind will tell you that this group brings more speed and shakes to the Midwest than anyone since Walter White (ed. note – OK, one meth joke but that’s IT) while the UH bunch seriously doubts this group of possession guys’ ability to stretch the field, particularly in concert with Franklin’s popgun arm.
The Tigers’ O-line looked to be returning a wealth of experience in 2011, but that was before Elvis left the building – senior OT Elvis Fisher blew out a knee during summer practice and deprived the Missouri O-line of an experienced and accomplished tackle. They still return a number of solid players, however. Senior Dan Hoch is solid and dependable, if not overly athletic. Senior Austin Wuebbels wobbled but didn’t fall down during his first couple of seasons as a starter, and shows signs of rounding into a capable performer. With Fisher gone, the Tigers will be entrusting the left tackle spot to sophomore Justin Britt, whose name would be even preppier if it was reversed. Squatty bodies Jayson Palmgren and Travis Ruth will sort out who’s playing center and who’s playing guard and then, um, play center and guard. On the EEEE! side of the street it’s a fairly experienced and reasonably talented group who should have the burden of pro-caliber blocking removed in a zone read and quick-pass intensive scheme, but the UHs will bemoan the lack of a possible all-conference player in Fisher and wring their hands at this group’s penalty-prone ways.
Missouri displayed a cavalier attitude towards academics that no doubt earned the scorn of the Big Ten admirable patience and understanding in waiting out the arduous, JUCO-tinged recruitment of Rivals 5-star DT Sheldon Richardson and will finally reap their reward when the 310-pound man-child finally takes the field this fall. As long as they don’t let him pet any puppies or ranch hands' wives he should be a terror in the middle. The Tigers also have senior Dominique Hamilton returning from injury, with Terrell Resonno and Marvin Foster rounding out the rotation. The EEES! love the potential of Richardson wreaking havoc while Hamilton and the rest stay strong against the run, while the UHs worry about Hamilton and Fosters’ predilection towards injury as well as the aforementioned puppy concerns.
Despite the loss of all-everything DE Aldon Smith to a stress fracture midway through 2010, the Tigers cobbled together a very effective rotation on the edges that helped them put a lot of heat on opposing QBs. Senior Jacquies Smith has a penchant for big plays, as well as a snappy fashion line at K-Mart. Sophomore Michael Sam showed the ability to be disruptive as a freshman, redshirt freshman Kony Ealy looked like a monster in Missouri’s Spring Game, and junior Brad Madison is the only member of the rotation without a somewhat comical name. The EEEE!s anticipate this bunch building on a very solid performance from a year ago, but the UHs don’t see the all-around athleticism and talent that Mizzou fans became accustomed to with guys like Aldon Smith and Stryker Sulak.
The Missouri linebacking corps was beset by injury last year, but should be solid if they can stay healthy with an experienced crew of junior Zaviar Gooden and seniors Luke Lambert and Will Ebner returning. We’ll give the EEEE!s the floor on this one to revel in all that experience returning to help the Tigers make another run at the league’s points allowed title in 2011.
It’s new faces in the secondary for the Tigers as they replace three starters with only senior safety Kenji Jackson returning. We’ll let the UHs ponder how three new guys in the back four could play havoc with the Tigers’ plans.
There you have it – a fair and balanced look at what the Tigers are bringing to the table in 2011. While their Big XII record has been spotty with only two North division titles and no conference titles in 15 seasons, there’s no denying that Gary Pinkel has done a lot of good for the program with a school-record six straight bowl appearances and three seasons of double digit wins since 2007. While it’s hard to imagine the Tigers getting past the Sooners for the conference crown while breaking in a new QB, they should turn in a strong showing in 2011.
Of course, I did promise you an answer to the pronunciation question – an answer that demands thinking big-picture. And when you talk big picture in college football, you’re talking about superconferences. With the Aggies determined to push the plunger and blow up the Big XII with their move to the SEC (with said plunger-pushing likely to work out as well for them long term as it always did for Wile E. Coyote), it is only a matter of time before college football undergoes a dramatic transformation. Texas stands as the lynchpin for so much of what will ultimately shake out in the college football landscape. We may end up forming our own superconference with names like Notre Dame and BYU in the mix, in which case it’s pretty likely Mizzou remains our conference-mate and retains a seat at the BCS table. If Texas moves west to create the Pac-16 or north to create the Big-16, the picture for the Tigers gets much more cloudy. In either instance, it’s far from certain that Mizzou either moves with Texas or gets picked up by the other conference – they lack Kansas’ basketball cachet, Notre Dame’s overall brand value or BYU’s championship legacy and nationwide following. It’s not out of the realm of possibility that Missouri could find itself as the Mack Daddy of the MAC in a few years’ time, with a BCS bid a distant memory and demographic trends presaging an even darker future.
The answer to the question? The true pronunciation of this particular state remains as it always has been.