This bye week has stretched on for what has seemed like centuries to Missouri Tiger football fans, and the worst is not over.
Six more days remain until conference play starts against the Nebraska Cornhuskers, and although it has been a long wait, the off time has given me some time to think.
Missouri is going to lose A LOT of their talent from this year's squad. Assuming eligible players like Jeremy Maclin and Sean Weatherspoon leave early (and all sources in the student body say they are already gone), the Tigers will lose a horrific 14 starters. That's a lot to make up for.
BUT, while it's impossible to ask the future Tigers to make fans forget about Chase (Daniel), Chase (Coffman), and Jeremy, the future is actually looking pretty good for the Tigers, and the cupboard will be pretty full for another run at the Big 12 North next season.
Blaine Gabbert would have to screw up pretty badly or get injured for him to not be starting next season.
Even though 2009 recruits Ashton Glaser and Blaine Dalton are expected to enroll this winter, Gabbert will be the only quarterback on the roster with in-game experience. Although he's incredibly talented, this position could struggle at times next year.
Nothing to worry about here! Derrick Washington will be back, as will shifty speedster Devion Moore. 2008 recruit Drew Temple (Tony's brother) will be in his first year of eligibility, and the Tigers are looking to sign another RB for 2009.
Wide receiver/tight end
Gone will be J-Mac, Tommy Saunders, and Chase Coffman. But it appears that Gary Pinkel and Dave Christensen have constructed an offense that reloads its pass-catching targets.
Jerrell Jackson, Wes Kemp, and Andrew Jones have all seen action as true freshmen this season, so they'll be ready to step in, even if they're not as good immediately.
Another major wildcard is 2007 signee Rolandis Woodland. He signed in 2006, went to prep school, then almost didn't qualify this year. If he ever makes it to the field, he could be a difference-maker.
Also, Danario Alexander and Jared Perry should be around as talented senior leaders. Danario has NFL potential and Perry was a freshman All-American. The corps will be weakened, but not broken, next season.
Right tackle Colin Brown is a huge loss physically (the kid is 6-foot-8, 325 pounds!), but beastly soon-to-be sophomore Dan Hoch should slide into his spot and barely miss a beat.
Same with Ryan Madison at guard, where Dain Wise or Austin Wuebbels will use their previous experience to fill the holes. Nothing major will be gone here.
Oh boy. This is where it could get tricky. The Tigers lose both ends in Tommy Chavis and Stryker Sulak, and also interior monster Ziggy Hood.
But all is not lost. Jaron Baston will remain to anchor the nose tackle spot, and there's young talent on the outside, even with Michael Keck's departure from the team.
Jacquies Smith will be a true sophomore next year, and he's played well in limited duty this season, as has Chris Earnhardt as a redshirt freshmen. Brian Coulter is talented, and if healthy, he could be a force.
Replacing Hood will be the biggest problem, but the coaching staff loves gargantuan redshirt freshmen Terrell Resonno, and Dominique Hamilton (both 6-foot-6, 285 pounds), especially after they put on some more weight.
Depth on the outside should be the biggest issue, but incoming recruits Shelden Richardson and Brayden Burnett should help that out a lot. With the interior looking to be the same cast for the next couple seasons, the line will go wherever the young kids take it.
If Sean Weatherspoon sticks around for his senior year, this could literally be the best corps Mizzou has ever seen. But if he keeps racking up 20-tackle performances, and best buddy J-Mac hits the road, he probably won't ignore the NFL dollars.
Even without 'Spoon, returning players Luke Lambert (junior in 2009), and Will Ebner (sophomore in 2009), will be good if not great in the middle of the field. Andrew Gachkar is a solid third option, and don't rule out a true freshmen or two playing.
The LB depth is going to be exposed next season if 'Spoon leaves for the big time, so the Tigers will have to hope for a healthy season where true freshmen impress. Otherwise, this area of the defense might be exposed late in games when starters get tired or banged up.
The Tigers will lose everybody except No. 1 corner Carl Gettis. Castine Bridges can be replaced, as can safety Justin Garrett, but the loss of William Moore will hurt big time.
Look for youngsters Kevin Rutland (junior in '09) and Trey Hobson (sophomore in '09) to get major PT. Veterans Del Howard and Hardy Ricks should get a lot of time at safety, and it's about time we saw four-star recruit Gilbert Moye make his appearance back there as well.
However, don't count out the class of 2008. Kenji Jackson has looked very good in limited duty this season, and peers Zaviar Gooden and Robert Steeples have impressed as well in practice.
The secondary certainly won't be better off without Willy Mo, but they should be respectable.
Punter Jake Harry will be back, but amazing senior Jeff Wolfert will be gone. Wolfert has been everything Tigers fans could ask for during his career, and replacing him will be tough.
Look for the Tigers to possibly sign a kicker this season. He'll definitely be missed.
I'm not going to give a number of wins I predict, but the Tigers shouldn't fall out of the Top 25 next season. They have a non-conference schedule that should allow them to get three or four easy wins, and they'll be better then most of their conference foes.
If J-Mac and 'Spoon stick around (which I'm telling you, WILL NOT happen), they could reach 10 victories.
The point to all of this? Missouri football seems to be here to stay.
No, they don't have a storied past, but the winds are changing in Columbia, and Gary Pinkel is setting up a school that will be good for many years.
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