The Missouri Tigers spent the 2007 season making a name for themselves. But the real challenge comes in 2008, when they have to uphold that name and all the newfound expectations that now come along with being the Missouri Tigers.
The Tigers no longer have the anonymity in the Big XII or the national spectrum. For the first time, the Tigers are directly in the spotlight and expected to perform.
Standing at the forefront of the team are Chase Daniel and Jeremy Maclin, both whom received Heisman votes last season, and will be garnering extra attention from opposing coaches and the national media.
William Moore, the Tigers’ standout safety, is projected to be a first-round draft pick when he exits Mizzou, and is widely considered an All-American caliber player. Moore stepped up his game with the loss of Pig Brown, the Tigers' other outstanding safety, who went down with a season-ending Achilles injury late last year.
The Tigers will need other exceptionally talented players to step up in 2008, much like Moore did in 2007.
There are a few players who can perform the feat, and who's performances will be crucial to the Tigers’ sustained success in 2008.
Players such as Chase Coffman—the big tight end is not flying under anyone’s radar, and that is difference between last year and this year. The loss of Martin Rucker, who was Daniel’s workhorse in 2007 and a security receiver, will free Coffman from being the second option—but it will also make it harder for him to free himself from the strong coverage he is certain to be facing every down.
The Tigers, who in years past have seemed to have a limitless number of outstandingly talented receivers, are not nearly as deep as they have been in the past.
On the best day in 2007 they could have lined up Franklin, Coffman, Rucker, Saunders and Maclin. They no longer have two of those options, which will certainly make it more difficult against the elite teams on the Tigers’ schedule. It is vital to the success of the Tigers offense that Coffman does not have a dropoff in 2008.
By all reports, Daniel is more than comfortable making the Chase to Chase connection 10 times a game.
The fact of the matter is that Coffman is a proven commodity, he just needs to maintain his pedigree. The real challenge for the Tigers of the offensive side starts up front and out wide, where players need to show their worth early and often for this team.
Out wide, the receiving corps are, as aforementioned, not as strong as they usually are. Players that were consigned to the bench in seasons past will be called upon to make an impact with their newfound playing time.
Failure is not a possibility for players like Jered Perry, looking to bounce back from a sophomore slump, or Denario Alexander, who emerged as the best receiver on the team at times last year, only to be sidetracked by multiple injuries.
Alexander missed five games last year due to a broken wrist, but came back strong, only to tear ligaments in his knee in the Big XII Championship Game. His recovery is vital to the Tigers' airborne attack.
Perry had an outstanding freshman year in 2006, but was outplayed by Alexander for playing time in 2007. When he played, he couldn’t regain his early career form. The only true wide receiver reserve with any significant game experience, Perry will get the call more often in 2008. He needs to answer with the strong consistent play he is capable of.
On the offensive line, the loss of captain Adam Spieker will make the play of sophomore Tim Barnes vital. The offensive line last year was one of the finest in the nation, and Barnes has the difficult task of replacing Spieker.
If he succeeds, no one will know his name. If he fails, he’ll bear a large brunt of the blame. Keep an eye out for his performance.
The Tigers have national title hopes in 2008, something they have not been able to say in the preseason since the 1960s. But that is not an accomplishment achieved by this year's team. They can thank the 2007 Cotton Bowl champions for the honor.
The Tigers will take the field in 2008 looking to prove the hype was justified, and to get some recognition on their own terms.