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PowerMizzou – Five Mizzou football storylines, predictions for the 2022 season – Rivals.com – Missouri

PowerMizzou - Five Mizzou football storylines, predictions for the 2022 season - Rivals.com - Missouri
Written by admin sati

For the first time since 2017, I will be watching Missouri football from afar this fall. If you haven’t seen the news already, this is my final story for PowerMizzou. Jarod Hamilton will take over day-to-day coverage of the team.

So, now that I am about to be finished watching the Tigers as a member of the media, I thought I would offer my take on the five storylines that will interest me most this season as a fan. Plus, since this is my last story and no one will be able to yell at me when I am inevitably wrong, I’m also including a prediction to go along with each storyline.

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Can Missouri takie a step forward in Eli Drinkwitz’s third season? The answer likely depends on whether he’s found an effective quarterback and defensive coordinator. (USA Today Sports Images)

1. Does Mizzou have a QB who can elevate this offense?

I’m honestly exhausted of speculating about the quarterback position after doing so all offseason. But when you have uncertainty at the most important position in football, it’s going to be talked about.

In case you’ve somehow missed it, here is the situation: Connor Bazelak struggled more and more as last season progressed. Drinkwitz stuck with him behind center until the final game of the regular season, when Bazelak completed 10 of 26 passes for 65 yards and an interception in a loss to Arkansas. Drinkwitz then started redshirt freshman Brady Cook in the Armed Forces Bowl, and Bazelak transferred to Indiana.

Cook showed some flashes in the close loss to Army, completing 27 of 34 attempts for 238 yards and a touchdown while also rushing for a score. But during the offseason, Drinkwitz suggested that he wasn’t willing to hand Cook the keys to the offense when he brought three different transfer quarterbacks to campus for official visits. All eventually signed elsewhere. As a result, Missouri turned to journeyman transfer Jack Abraham. It now looks like it’ll be a battle between Abraham, Cook and Tyler Macon for the starting spot during fall camp. (Drinkwitz has said true freshman Sam Horn will get a shot, as well, but it would come as a shock if Horn can win the competition after just arriving on campus in June).

I’m much less interested in who eventually emerges as the starting quarterback as I am whether that player can be better than Bazelak was for most of last season. This Missouri offense looks to have more weapons than the past couple iterations (more on that momentarily). But it won’t matter if the guy behind center can’t get them the ball. Missouri needs a passer who can not only take care of the ball and make the right decisions but actually throw his receivers open. I always felt like that was the one thing Bazelak, even when playing well, was rarely able to do, and when you’re facing SEC defensive backs, you can’t just find an open player every snap.

Prediction: Whoever starts at quarterback for the Tigers on Sept. 1 (my guess is Abraham or Cook) should be better than Bazelak was during the final few games a year ago. That’s a pretty low bar. But I’m not sure either of those guys is a dynamic, top-half-of-the-SEC type of playmaker. I think Missouri has quarterbacks on the roster who can be unspectacular but solid (and maybe that’s all the team needs to win seven games), but not good enough to stave off the fans clamoring to get a look at Horn this season.

2. Is Luther Burden (and the rest of the receivers) as good as advertised?

Drinkwitz’s biggest victory during his Missouri tenure was landing the signature of Burden, the No. 5 recruit in the class of 2022. Expectations are high for the St. Louis native, some of them probably too high. I don’t think Burden is going to win SEC Player of the Year or be a Heisman finalist as a true freshman.

However, I do think it’s fair to look for Burden to start and infuse some dynamism into a receiving corps that has lacked big-play ability in recent seasons. There’s reason for optimism that a few other players, like Dominic Lovett and Mookie Cooper, can bring that as well.

But just because Missouri has a few more highly-rated recruits in its wide receiver room, does that position group really scare SEC defensive coordinators? And is the group good enough to carry the offense? Missouri’s best play the past two seasons has been to give the ball to its bell-cow running back and let him take it from there. This team doesn’t appear to have a Larry Rountree III or Tyler Badie. It also doesn’t have any returning production at tight end. Can the receivers make up for that? Time will tell.

Prediction: I’m actually buying some of the hype around the Tiger wide receivers. I don’t think this will be the best group of wideouts in the SEC or anything, but I think Missouri has enough playmakers at the position. Burden’s talent speaks for itself. Lovett looked like a new player operating out of the slot during the spring game. And I’ve long thought Tauskie Dove is under-appreciated. He just needs a quarterback who can get the ball to him downfield and let him go get it. As we’ve discussed, Missouri still might not have that quarterback on this roster, which would obviously hurt the receivers, but I think there’s a lot to like in this group.

The debut of five-star recruit Luther Burden in a Missouri uniform will be much anticipated by Tiger fans.

The debut of five-star recruit Luther Burden in a Missouri uniform will be much anticipated by Tiger fans. (Nick Lucero/Rivals.com)

3. Has Drinkwitz found someone he can trust to build a defense?

Any time you have a coach who works almost exclusively on one side of the ball, it’s imperative for him to find an effective coordinator to handle the other. Drinkwitz didn’t find that guy in Ryan Walters or Steve Wilks. Is Blake Baker the answer? He better hope so, because changing defensive coordinators every season isn’t a recipe for success.

Now, we may not know right away whether Baker is the right man for the job (although it was pretty apparent after about a month last season that Wilks wasn’t going to work out). After all, he’s taking over a defense that Wilks designed and trying not to change too much so as not to further disrupt a unit that was finally finding its footing toward the end of last season. But the first objective is to put his players in the right positions and avoid the early-season meltdowns that we witnessed after the Tigers changed coordinators a year ago. If we see similar struggles, it’s going to be a long year.

Prediction: It’s impossible to guess whether or not Baker can be the long-term answer at defensive coordinator before he has coached a game at Missouri. But I do expect him and the Tiger defense to at least not be the worst defense in the country through the first half of the season. That seems reasonable.

4. Does this defense have any difference-makers?

Drinkwitz has continually said that the biggest reason Missouri is going to be a better team in 2022 is because the defense will be improved. And while a new coordinator might help, the coaching staff can only do so much. If the Tigers are going to take that next step on the defensive side of the ball, it’s going to have to be because the guys on the field play better.

I think Missouri has some nice players on the defensive side of the ball. Isaiah McGuire and Trajan Jeffcoat can be really good when they’re on, although we’ve also seen them disappear at times. Kris Abrams-Draine should have been an all-SEC player last season. Jaylon Carlies showed flashes. Ty’Ron Hopper is an intriguing addition. But can any of them be the dude that, when you really need a stop or a momentum play, they deliver more often than not? All the best Missouri defenses in recent memory have had one or two guys like that. I’m not sure this unit does.

Prediction: Until I see it, I’m not willing to bet this defense has a player who, say, earns first-team all-SEC recognition. I think the two defensive ends are solid, but I need to see more consistency. I think Abrams-Draine is Missouri’s best player in coverage, but I wonder how he will adjust from nickelback to the outside, where he will likely be asked to cover the opposing team’s best wideout every week. I think expectations have gotten a bit out of whack for Hopper, who has only had one game in his career with double-digit tackles. Carlies actually intrigues me the most thanks to his physical gifts, but he also gave up a few huge plays last season because he was out of position, so I need to see him avoid that before he can be considered a difference-maker.

5. Do more fans show up?

I know attendance can be a sore subject, and I’m not interested in re-litigating the chicken-or-egg debate of whether it’s the duty of fans to show up no matter what to help build a winner or whether the onus falls on the team to win some games first. But the fact of the matter is Missouri averaged 46,473 fans in the stands for home games in 2021. That’s the program’s lowest mark since 1996 (not including 2020). That’s a decrease of nearly 8,000 people per game from 2019, which was a season that resulted in the head coach being fired. I’m not sure where that ranked among SEC or Power Five peers because the NCAA never published its nationwide attendance records for 2021, but in 2019 all but two SEC teams averaged more than 50,000 fans in the stands.

Since taking over for Jim Sterk a little more than a year ago, athletics director Desiree Reed-Francois has talked a lot about finding ways to improve the fan experience and put more butts in seats. She gets a pass for last season because she got hired right before it started, but it will be interesting to see if she and the rest of the athletics department have found a way to boost attendance. If so, that would be a boon to the department. Revenue from ticket sales is typically the biggest discrepancy between Missouri and the top-grossing schools in the SEC.

Prediction: Attendance might be a little bit better than last season, when the COVID-19 pandemic was still keeping some fans at home. But this fanbase has typically shown that it needs the team to win big before it’s going to fill the stadium. And considering this squad’s question marks at quarterback and on defense, it’s not hard to envision a similar situation to last year, where the team drops two road matchups during the first four weeks and the wind comes out of the sails as far as fan support goes. Averaging more than 50,000 fans per home game should be the minimum expectation in the SEC, but I’m not sure the Tigers get there in 2022.

Bonus: Can this team win seven or more games?

If you all stuck with me this far in one last article that probably should have been shorter, I’ll tackle the big question, the only one that really matters this fall. Can Missouri put together a winning season? No, Drinkwitz isn’t in jeopardy of losing his job if this team fails to do so, but with the honeymoon period between him and the fans fizzling out, it feels like all of his recruiting success and bravado need to translate into more wins than losses for the fans to stay fully on board.

Prediction: Can this team win seven games (I’m talking regular season only here)? Sure. Louisiana Tech, Abilene Christian, New Mexico State and Vanderbilt should be sure victories. Kansas State, Auburn, South Carolina, Kentucky and Arkansas are all more or less toss-ups, in which I don’t think either team would be favored by more than about six points. Win more of those than you lose and you’re at seven wins. That doesn’t sound too hard.

However, given the way the schedule breaks with Kansas State and Auburn both being played on the road early in the year, I can’t pick the Tigers to win those matchups. (A low-key concerning trend is the fact that Missouri is 2-8 away from Faurot Field thus far under Drinkwitz.) And while I could see the Tigers winning any of the three matchups at South Carolina, at home against Kentucky and at home against Arkansas, I know from covering four seasons of SEC football that winning three of those 50-50 type games (and calling those 50-50 might be generous; Mizzou is probably an underdog in all three if they’re played today) in a five-week span rarely happens. At some point, the ball isn’t going to bounce your way. Ultimately, I’m predicting another 6-6 season for Missouri, its fourth .500 regular season in a row.

If I’m right, you’re welcome for the free betting forecast. If I’m wrong and the Tigers are better, it’s probably because they used this story as bulletin board material, so again, you’re welcome. Thanks everyone for reading.

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