2009 Season More Important Than '08 For Pinkel and Mizzou

Mitch StubbsContributor IJune 19, 2009

DALLAS - JANUARY 01:  Head coach Gary Pinkel of the Missouri Tigers looks on during the AT&T Cotton Bowl Classic on January 1, 2008 at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas, Texas.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

This year would be the perfect time for a Mizzou fan to listen to those ever-bothersome timeshare agents and invest in a vacation home far far away. Reality check: Barely mortal QB Chase Daniel is mingling in a Washington Redskins mini-camp and the tigers are predicted to finish next to last in the Big 12 North. While the football season looks dismal Kansas superstars Cole Aldrich and Sherron Collins will do their best to make the basketball season likewise. Virgin Islands here I come.


The 2008 football season was supposed to be Missouri’s thrust onto the scene. A miserable defense combined with costly turnovers quickly ended all hopes in Columbia.


Now, Head coach Gary Pinkel has a skeleton of his football team remaining and can’t waste a second in preparing for arguably his toughest season yet.


Missouri’s high-octane offense will be a little less high and a lot less octane this year. As mentioned, Daniel is departed, along with his 15 or so school records, and a cast of specialists followed.


Jeremy Maclin broke hearts on January 9 when his news of the NFL draft was made public. The dynamic receiver is now going to be breaking ankles in an Eagles jersey next season.


The “man among boys” Chase Coffman, superman himself, leaves a colossal hole at the TE position. Sophomore tight end-to-be Andrew Jones might have just wet himself.


While the offense is running wild in panic, Golden Boy Blaine Gabbert is desperately trying to grab the reigns. The savior threw a mighty 13 passes last year (completing 5) and racked up a grand total of… 43 yards. Mizzou’s knight in shining arm is a bit rusty.


Gabbert definitely has the biggest hole to fill and expectation to meet, but Junior tailback Derrick Washington isn’t out of the spotlight. The Raymore, MO native made a name for himself in 2008 and will without doubt be the go to guy in 2009. The good news, the tigers have 3 out of 5 starters returning to the line to bust open running lanes for Washington all season.


Gabbert will have Jones, Jared Perry and Danario Alexander to throw to, but the running game must be a bigger part of the offense next season.


The defense lost studs in S William Moore, DT Ziggy Hood, LB Brock Christopher and DE Stryker Sulak. The tigers also lost at least three other starters. A defense that was horrid last season has nowhere to go but up.


Standout recruit Sheldon Richardson might see immediately playing time if things get too bad. Coaches are looking to junior Luke Lambert to a key player of the tiger defense at MLB. OLB Sean Witherspoon is the only proven defender returning to the defense. DBs Gettis and Gettys need to improve immensely.


The person who will be under the most scrutiny this season: Gary Pinkel and his coaching staff. A pair of Dave’s (Yost and Steckel) will have to prove as good hires for the tigers to be successful. Yost will have to resurrect an offense in shambles and Steckel must make something that was never there - a good defense.


However, on a positive note, Missouri does have an extremely encouraging schedule. Travelling to Stillwater to take on the Cowboys will be anything but a cakewalk, but the rest of the bulky Big 12 teams the tigers play are in favorable conditions. Nebraska and Texas come to Columbia, and games against Illinois and Kansas are at neutral sites.


What’s at stake this year for the Missouri Tigers? Establishment as a football program. Good teams compete year in and year out. The tigers are coming off back-to-back Big 12 Championship appearances, have bounced around atop the AP Poll and have gained a glimpse of national attention. Now they must assert themselves as a program on the rise. Go 6-6 and eat Oklahoma’s dust. Manage 10-4 and another Big 12 North Title, and reap the benefits of being a consistently good program. This year is the year.