Chase Daniel. Jeremy Maclin. Chase Coffman. William Moore. These were all college superstars, and they all have to be replaced. Can Missouri still contend for a North Division crown after losing so much of their offensive and defensive production? Many pundits say "no." Phil Steele, one of the most accurate college football prognosticators, has the Tigers finishing fifth in the North Division.
Yes, Missouri lost a trainload of exceptional talent. Yes, Missouri lost their offensive and defensive coordinators. But Gary Pinkel and his staff and done a remarkable job of taking recruits that aren't highly ranked, and turning them into all conference players. Missouri linebacker Sean Weatherspoon was regarded by most scouting sites as a two star player. He is now widely considered to be one of the best linebackers in the country.
The fact is, Missouri is loaded with great athletes. Many of them haven't seen real playing time yet, but as the season progresses I would expect the Tigers to have more than a few all-conference players. Players that right now, aren't even being talked about in the football magazines that have started to come out. Players like Brian Coulter, Luke Lambert, and Danario Alexander (if he can stay healthy for a full season) will all be household names in Big 12 country by the season's end.
The biggest key to a successful season will be the quarterback play of Blaine Gabbert. The Tigers will need him to mature at a rate similar to Chase Daniel's sophomore campaign. That year, the Tigers started the season 6-0, but limped to an 8-5 finish. I think most Missouri fans would be pleased with a similar record for '09.
Here's what the Tigers will be facing this year:
Illinois* This is a scary opener for fans of the black and gold. Illinois should carry a preseason top 25 ranking, and will be thinking of revenge against the Tigers after losing two straight contests. Missouri is still too young at this point, and it will show in the opener.
Illinois 38 Missouri 27
Bowling Green The Tigers have struggled in years past against Bowling Green, but the Tigers should take care of business in their home opener.
Missouri 31 Bowling Green 20
Furman This is the cupcake of the schedule. It will be a good opportunity for a lot of young players to get on the field.
Missouri 42 Furman 13
at Nevada Nevada is a great offensive team, and will be playing their hearts out in this one. The Tigers destroyed them in Columbia last year, and the Wolfpack haven't forgotten. Nevada played Texas Tech at home last year, and nearly upset them. This should be an excellent game.
Missouri 28 Nevada 24
Nebraska The conference opener will be played on a Thursday night, in front of what will surely be a raucous crowd. Nebraska hasn't won in Columbia since 2001, and have lost four of the last six match ups. I think home field advantage will be key, and the young Tiger team should finally start to gel.
Missouri 20 Nebraska 14
at Oklahoma State Last year, the Cowboys came to Columbia and shocked the Tigers by giving them their first loss of the season. Much of that same explosive team returns this season, and many pundits have Oklahoma State in their top 10. The underdog usually wins this match up, but not this year.
Oklahoma State 41 Missouri 28
Texas The Longhorns manhandled the Tigers last year, and they'll do it again. Texas should be one of the nation's elite teams this year, and it'll show in Columbia.
Texas 45 Missouri 21
at Colorado The Buffaloes are a complete mystery at this point. The talent is there, but Colorado just hasn't performed consistently in the Dan Hawkins era. Missouri will have to rebound well after coming off back to back defeats. The Tigers will show great resiliency and get the win.
Missouri 24 Colorado 14
Baylor If you watched Baylor play last year, you know how special Robert Griffin III is. He reminds many people of Vince Young. As a Tiger fan, he reminds me of Brad Smith. He is a star, and the Tigers better have a gameplan set up to contain him.
Missouri 35 Baylor 31
at Kansas State Bill Snyder is back at KSU. It won't matter. The Wildcats have too many questions, and not nearly enough talent.
Missouri 38 Kansas State 24
Iowa State The Cyclones were left in shambles after former head coach Gene Chizik took off for greener pastures at Auburn. It will be a long, rough year for Iowa State.
Missouri 35 Iowa State 17
Kansas# The Border War. Kansas has a great receiving corps, and a quarterback that knows how to get the ball to them. If this game were earlier in the season, I would predict a Jayhawk victory, but after having to play both Texas and Oklahoma, I think the Jayhawks will be beat up physically. Overall, Kansas may have the better team, but I think Missouri will get the victory in a hard fought battle.
Missouri 28 Kansas 24
That would put the tigers at 9-3 (6-2). That would more than likely put the Tigers in the Big 12 championship for a third straight year. I may be reaching a bit, but I believe that as the season progresses, we'll see that Missouri is definitely reloading, not rebuilding.
* St. Louis # Kansas City