Grading Mizzou's 2010 Season: Can They Continue the Winning Streak?

Shane PattonCorrespondent ISeptember 30, 2010

The Missouri Tigers are off to another great start in 2010. Mizzou is 4-0 for the fifth consecutive year under head coach Gary Pinkel and appears ready to make a run at the Big 12 North title once again.

The Tigers have been plagued with several off-the-field issues this season, most notably involving running back Derrick Washington, which led to his permanent suspension from the team.

Pinkel has run a tight ship at MU for 10 years, so hopefully this is just "one of those years" and not a trend.

Missouri has also dealt with many key injuries, none with more potentially disastrous consequences than defensive end Aldon Smith's broken fibula.

Smith is an incredible athlete and was on pace to lead the Big 12 in sacks for the second straight season before his injury. The Tigers hope to have him back for their matchup with the Colorado Buffaloes, but that may be wishful thinking.

Coach Pinkel has a "no excuses" policy and will expect Mizzou's depth on the defensive line to overcome the loss of Smith if he cannot go on October 9.

The running back by committee appears to be working. The Tigers have been a better rushing team this year, rushing for 154 yards per game compared to 127 yards per game last season.

Mizzou will need to keep up its newfound rushing attack as the competition will continue to get stronger with MU heading into Big 12 Conference play.

The Tigers need to get more disciplined on the field as well as off the field. Mizzou is averaging 71.5 yards in penalties this season compared to 55 yards lost per game due to penalties in 2009.

This is a big number when you consider Mizzou needs all the help it can get on defense. Losing ground and field position due to penalties only adds pressure to the Tigers' bend-but-don't-break defensive unit.

Last, but certainly not least, is the play of Blaine Gabbert. The Tigers will go as far as Gabbert's arm will take them. His passing efficiency is down—132.96 compared to 140.45 in 2009—due to Gabbert's five touchdowns to three interceptions ratio.

Gabbert hasn't faced any stout defenses this season, so his efficiency is an area of concern for the MU coaching staff. The good news is that Gabbert looks to be pressing knowing he is supposed to be even better this season (he's been mentioned in some of the Heisman talk for the 2010 award). Once Gabbert stops pressing, his rating will climb back up.

Look for Gabbert's play to become more consistent as he continues to get comfortable with receivers T.J. Moe and Michael Egnew. Gabbert's main target last season was the departed Danario Alexander, who produced 48 percent of Mizzou's offense in 2009.

The fact that Gabbert is spreading the ball more this season should mean more difficulty for opposing defenses.

All in all Missouri looks to be a legit 4-0 team. Sure they had a close game against San Diego State, but the Tigers didn't quit and came away with a character-building victory, something they haven't always had the ability to do.