The 2008 season was supposed to be the year that the Missouri Tigers broke out and competed for a National Championship. Instead, the defense broke down and the team finished a disappointing 10-4.
Now, Mizzou must enter 2009 without Chase Daniel, Jeremy Maclin, Chase Coffman, William Moore, and Ziggy Hood. Knowing this, many expect Kansas and Nebraska to be frontrunners for the Big 12 division crown, with the Tigers potentially making a run if things break their way.
Some of the college football preview magazines are in the works, and the Tigers are not being treated like contenders. In fact, Phil Steele predicted Missouri would finish fifth in the division, ahead of only Iowa State.
There is a lot of proven talent no longer in the black and gold, and that is all "experts" need to see. They see a young team without experience and a depleted offense. The truth is, this team may have more raw talent than any other in Missouri Tiger football history.
Before dismissing this article as that of a homer, note that I'm saying the team may have more raw talent. I'm not claiming this team to be better than any other team, because frankly, I could see this team winning anywhere from 4-9 games.
Within the past few recruiting cycles, head coach Gary Pinkel has brought in talent rarely seen in Columbia. This is the reason Mizzou fans have any hope at all for the 2009 season. Potential stars like Blaine Gabbert, Rolandis Woodland, and Kenji Jackson are waiting for their chance, which is coming.
The key word when discussing Missouri football in 2009 is potential. There are players with great measureables and high rankings from recruiting services on this team, but no one knows how these players will do on the field.
The two areas Mizzou fans are most anxious about are quarterback and the defensive line. Chase Daniel wiped out most previous records, and was responsible for much of the Tigers' success, especially in 2007.
Where Daniel lacked, Blaine Gabbert excels. Gabbert is 6'5'', compared to Daniel's 6'. The former Heisman finalist was accurate, but did not have the arm strength that Gabbert has, as the sophomore basically has a rocket launcher attached to his shoulder. Gabbert was ranked as a five star recruit out of Parkway West High School, while Daniel was given just three stars.
On paper, Gabbert should be a vast improvement over Daniel, but that is obviously no sure thing.
A year after losing Lorenzo Williams, the Tigers had to watch their other star defensive tackle, Ziggy Hood, leave for the NFL. Both ends graduated as well, with Stryker Sulak being drafted to the black hole that is the Oakland Raiders.
There will be three new faces on the line with returning senior Jaron Baston, some of which could be very young. Terrell Resonno and Dominique Hamilton will each get time at tackle with Baston, and the defensive ends will consist of Brian Coulter, Aldon Smith, Jacquies Smith, and possibly Braydon Burnett, although he could redshirt as well.
This young group was the bright spot of the Mizzou Spring Game in April. While the offense struggled that day, the defensive ends looked much faster than before. There were even times Coulter had to slow down because he had gotten into the backfield so quickly and the play had not developed.
If Gabbert and the defensive line learns quickly and excels, Nebraska and Kansas can expect company in the division race. Many also expect that if Missouri can somehow win the division in a down year, they will be here to stay.