Pinkel's Program Reloaded With A Blank

  • Friday, November 13, 2009 7:34 AM
  • Written By: Jonathan Crowl

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The big talk in Missouri this off-season was that the team wasn't in rebuilding mode -- it was in reloading mode. This was the year where questions plagued Missouri's roster, but Gary Pinkel made a passionate case that this team wouldn't lose a beat, it just wouldn't be the same team. Maybe the offense didn't have Chase Daniel or Jeremy Maclin, but it did have Blaine Gabbert and Danario Alexander, not to mention an experienced defense that was supposed to pick up any slack the offense couldn't handle.

Well, that assessment proved to be grossly misguided in almost every way. It turns out Gabbert, for all his efforts in the off-season to prepare himself to fully fill out Daniel's shoes, is not as a sophomore what Daniel was as a senior. The Tigers' passing yards per game has dropped to 276 yards from 330 yards in 2008. For a number of reasons, the less threatening passing game being one of them, the running game also dropped off sharply this season, from 154 yards per contest to 111.

The result is a steep drop in scoring offense from 42.2 points per game in 2008 to 27.9 in 2009. Two fewer touchdowns a game is a tremendous drop-off, and it's taking its toll.

Then there's the defense, which for all its lauding and praise has only improved marginally, from 27.2 points per game to 24.4, a jump in the national rankings from 69 to 63. Is it pessimistic for me to say that's not making much of a difference in the box score?

Missouri is in the midst of what looked in the preseason like its cakewalk portion of the Big 12 schedule, with games against Colorado, Baylor, Kansas State and Iowa State all strung together. But the Tigers gave up 40 points to a famously-inept Baylor program playing its third-string quarterback, and now they face a Kansas State team trying to stake its claim to surprise team in the nation.

So it turns out the Tigers are who we thought they were -- a program with potential, but not an annual player. I wonder how long they'll give Pinkel to prove strong seasons can come consistently -- and let's remember his track record for producing underwhelming seasons. Prior to 2007, all of the Tigers' records under Pinkel were a disappointment. Even 2008, when they went 10-4, was a letdown after their preseason national title hopes.

I'm not holding my breath. I don't think Pinkel can lead Missouri where it wants to go.

The picks:

Texas at Baylor: I think if Baylor can score seven and hold Texas under 40, it should go down as a moral victory. But then again, who knows? Bears quarterback Nick Florence seems to be getting more comfortable in the pocket and getting more production out of his unit. Maybe they can squeeze a quarter or two of intrigue out of this one.

Missouri at Kansas State: The Karma Gods say Missouri, which has excelled at catching the wrong team at the wrong time, would knock off Kansas State, which has had everything go its way as of late. And while I'm tempted to pick Missouri, I just wrote seven paragraphs blasting almost every aspect of the Tigers' football program and issuing a vote of no confidence in their coach. So consider this an obligatory pick against Missouri rather than for Kansas State.

Colorado at Iowa State: I would enjoy watching this game between two programs headed in opposite directions. I think Colorado could pull it out, because it has had shown some surprising fight recently, and perhaps its mathematically-alive hopes of making a bowl game are fueling the Buffs in this last leg of the regular season. But at home, with the better coach, I'm going with the Cyclones for the win and the bowl eligibility. That's right, Cyclones fans! Book your flights for Shreveport!

Nebraska at Kansas: Is Nebraska's offense worse than Kansas' defense? I'm guessing it is. And I'm guessing you'll see both quarterbacks on Saturday trying to create something, anything on the offensive end. Luckily, Nebraska's defense is not only far superior to Kansas' offense, it's also the best in the country, and debate is almost futile. Go find another defense out there playing alongside an offense that can't even muster 40 passing yards in a game -- find that defense and ask them if they can hold Oklahoma to just three points for an entire game. Only the Blackshirts. They're why Nebraska wins.

Texas A&M at Oklahoma: So every other week, Landry Jones is labeled either the second coming of Sam Bradford or complete garbage. He was complete garbage last week, but I'm guessing A&M makes him look more like a Heisman winner. Sooners win.

Texas Tech at Oklahoma State: Another interesting game. These teams usually have wild games between them, often shootouts. Texas Tech has been a stumbling block for Oklahoma State, but I think the Cowboys will finish the year second in the Big 12 South, and a big step towards that goal is by beating Tech this weekend.

Thursday Forecast: It's All About the Quarterbacks, Baby

  • Thursday, October 8, 2009 10:21 AM
  • Written By: Jonathan Crowl

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This season is reminding us how critical quarterbacks are to their teams -- not only the starters, but the second string (and if you're Baylor, third-string). Last week alone, we saw Kansas State, Baylor, Oklahoma and Texas Tech look to quarterbacks other than the ones who took the helm at the start of the season. That's four out of the seven teams that played last week. Half the Big 12 has clear issues at quarterback, by virtue of either injuries or poor performance. You wouldn't be surprised to know that, by and large, the schedule thus far has favored the schools with stability under center.

This week's Thursday night ESPN game features a Big 12 contest that has been zeroed in on the quarterbacks since the day Chase Daniel left school. Blaine Gabbert leads Missouri against Nebraska, the team he had originally made a verbal commitment to back in 2007. He's currently undefeated as a starter and has yet to throw an interception, and Husker fans hope the top scoring defense in the nation can humble him.

Quarterbacks aside, this is a key game in the Big 12 North, where Missouri looks sharper than expected. The winner of this game will get an early inside track in the division, not to mention bragging rights in a rivalry that has already gotten ugly.

That aside, six conference games this weekend will provide some much-needed stratification among Big 12 schools, although schedule-makers did a great job at providing some pretty one-sided affairs, Nebraska-Mizzou aside.

The picks:

Nebraska at Missouri (Thursday): Tune into this game. The past two seasons Missouri has picked Nebraska apart using its spread, speed and prowess. That won't be enough to beat the Huskers this year, with their old-school defense. The Tigers don't have the physicality to stand up to the Blackshirts. Huskers win.

Oklahoma State at Texas A&M: Both teams have issues looming over this game. For Oklahoma State, it's the loss of Dez Bryant after the NCAA ruled him ineligible. The Aggies are more concerned with their propensity to suck. It's a pretty big issue, one that seems nowhere close to being resolved this season. Given that, OSU wins.

Iowa State at Kansas: I'm sure Iowa State is reeling from that loss to Kansas State, but I'm not sure if abysmal teams have letdown games. Either way, the point is moot. Kansas rolls, and yet again makes it to mid-October without facing a team of consequence.

Baylor at Oklahoma: Will Sam Bradford return? He hopes so. On the other side, Baylor's hoping Blake Szymanski will be able to replace Nick Florence. It's right about here where Baylor's disappointing slide begins.

Kansas State at Texas Tech: Mad props to my friend that took one look at Carson Coffman at Big 12 Media Days and concluded he wouldn't make it in the Big 12. He's been replaced by Grant Gregory, and so far, so good. Just don't judge Gregory when his team gets buried beneath at least 50 Texas Tech points.

Colorado at Texas: You know, I keep hearing how hard it's going to be for Colorado to win 10 games. "Impossible" is a term thrown about loosely. And yes, maybe it would take them running the regular-season table and winning their bowl game to hit 10 wins. But perhaps you failed to realize that running the table would give them a Big 12 Championship Game appearance and -- dare I say -- a shot at 11 wins? It's true, mathematically speaking, though I'm still saying seven losses, and No. 4 comes this weekend.

Big 12 Preview | Missouri No. 7

  • Friday, August 21, 2009 3:09 PM
  • Written By: Jonathan Crowl

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2008 record: 9-4 overall, 5-3 Big 12 Conference, co-Big 12 North Division champions

2009 projection: Missouri takes a huge hit offensively, losing Chase Daniel, Jeremy Maclin and Chase Coffman. The schedule is packed with teams good enough to put a bowl game trip in jeopardy.

Reason to get excited: Youth is opportunity.

Reason not to get worked up: Youth will lose a lot before it learns how to win big games.

The gist: Sophomore quarterback Blaine Gabbert needs to prove he can throw well enough to make room for Derrick Washington -- possibly the best talent on MU's offense -- to run. The defense has lost eight of its starters. Even kicker Jeff Wolfert is gone from a roster that was built for a BCS title run last season but fell well short. Potential All-American Sean Weatherspoon is by leaps and bounds the team's best player, and possibly its most important. More than half of both the offensive and defensive lines will be first-time starters. Coach Gary Pinkel is leaning on new leadership at offensive and defensive coordinators. This team's in transition.

Rallying point: Weatherspoon. He's the top athlete on the stronger unit, and he'll need to keep the defense calm and communicating. When the screws start to come loose, particularly in hostile Big 12 stadiums, Weatherspoon needs to hold the defense together.

Cover your eyes: For every Big 12 game but ISU and K-State. All could be ugly losses.

For what it's worth: Missouri is a couple seasons away from competing for a Big 12 title again. I'm not sure I'd buy stock in this program. Talents like Daniel and Maclin are rare. Without a better defense -- not Pinkel's strong suit -- climbing back to where they were in 2007 seems unlikely. If that's true, Pinkel could be in trouble.