Missouri Football: 10 Things the Tigers Do Very Well
The Missouri football program has seen its fair share of rough years. But since the arrival of Gary Pinkel in 2001, Missouri has been one of the better programs in college football, amassing 40 wins and five first-round picks in the NFL in the last four seasons.
It is a program that is steadily on the rise and is perennially ranked in the Top 25.
Here are 10 things that the Missouri Tigers do very well, in no particular order.
Developing NFL Talent
Although Mizzou has never played in a BCS bowl, it has registered more first-round draft picks than most FBS schools in the country.
DE Justin Smith was the third overall pick in 2003, and four other Mizzou Tigers have been drafted in the first round since then. Blaine Gabbert and Aldon Smith were both drafted in the top 10 in the 2011 draft.
Ziggy Hood started for the AFC champion Steelers for most of this past season, and Jeremy Maclin is a budding receiver for the Eagles.
Mizzou is beginning to crank out more and more NFL-ready players.
Recruiting the State of Texas
In the Gary Pinkel era, Mizzou has made a conscious effort to strongly recruit the state of Texas, and it has been successful in doing so.
Almost 30 players on the roster in 2011 are from the Lone Star State, and the Tigers have stolen 4-star prospects like Chase Daniel and James Franklin from this talent-laden state.
Missouri’s surge to prominence is due to this influx of Texas talent, and at the rate it is going fans will only see more Texas products on the field for the Tigers.
Recruiting the State of Missouri
Missouri has not always been a top-flight program, and its high school prospects are middle of the road consistently. In the past many blue-chip recruits from Missouri have gone elsewhere, but this is no longer the case.
Players from Missouri are now choosing to stay home because of the program's recent successes. Blaine Gabbert was the second-ranked 5-star quarterback behind Terrelle Pyror in 2008. Jeremy Maclin was another 4-star player with offers all around the Big 12 who made like LeBron James and "took his talents" to Mizzou.
Many Missouri high school products, like T.J. Moe, Wes Kemp and Brad Madison, among many others, have starred at Mizzou and brought that good PR to the program. They will look to continue this trend, as the 2012 recruiting class in Missouri features the No. 1 overall prospect, can't-miss receiver Dorial Green-Beckham.
Passing the Football
Missouri is one of the most famous college programs to use the spread offense. Simply put, this team can throw the football.
Outside of last season, the Tigers have consistently ranked near the top of the national rankings in passing yards in recent years. You can count the number of times they lined up near center on two hands in a given season.
Quarterbacks like Chase Daniel and Blaine Gabbert have directed the recent Mizzou offenses to great success. Daniel led the Tigers to consecutive Big 12 Championship Game appearances and was a finalist for the Heisman Trophy, and the team was ranked No. 1 in the country.
Passing has become a staple at Mizzou.
Coaching Defensive Linemen
Until this past season, Missouri’s defense was constantly disappointing and unreliable. Despite this track record, Gary Pinkel and company have always done a fabulous job with their defensive linemen.
As I mentioned earlier, Justin Smith was a top-three draft pick overall and has had a solid NFL career. Other players such as Atiyyah Ellison and C.J. Mosley have made it to the pros
More recently, Ziggy Hood had a breakout season with the perennial top defense in football, the Pittsburgh Steelers. Aldon Smith was drafted seventh overall by the 49ers and amassed 18 sacks in his short two-year career with the Tigers.
This coming season the Tigers boast their best defensive line in Pinkel’s tenure with three returning starters that include Jacquies Smith and spring ball MVP Brad Madison.
This program knows the defensive trenches; look for the rush to be even more relentless in 2011.
Going back to the days when Brad Smith was behind center, Missouri has always done a great job of getting great production out of its receivers and quarterbacks.
Smith led the team at QB for four seasons and was a triple threat at all times. He has transitioned into the NFL as a reliable receiver and kick returner and even a wildcat quarterback for the New York Jets.
Chase Daniel backs up Drew Brees for the New Orleans Saints now, but when he was a four-year starter at Mizzou he broke every school passing record and led the team to the edge of a national championship in 2007.
Jeremy Maclin was a two-time All-American as a receiver and kick returner and garnered a first-round draft choice by the Eagles in 2009. His backup, Danario Alexander, broke his single-season receiving yards record and now plays for the Rams.
There is a surplus of receiving and quarterback talent that goes through Mizzou year in and year out.
Playing at Home
Skeptics may argue that playing well at home should be the claim for most quality programs. However, this is easier said than done.
The fact is that Missouri is 26-5 at home since 2006, including an undefeated run last season that featured a win over then-No. 1 Oklahoma in front of a national television audience.
The atmosphere at Faurot Field is great, and it is beginning to build a reputation as a very rough place to play. Even when the team has struggled in the past, it has found ways to get it done at home.
It’s practically even for the all-time series (56-54-9 in favor of the Tigers), so maybe this is a stretch. But they have won four of the last five seasons pretty convincingly, and they have established themselves as a better program overall in football.
It's the oldest rivalry in college football, and while Kansas had its season of glory in 2007, it hasn't built on that success, while Missouri has. Overall there is no question Mizzou is the better program in every aspect.
Basketball, however, is a different story.
Developing Low-Level Prospects
Would you believe me if I told you that Aldon Smith was a 2-star prospect in high school?
Missouri has made a living off taking lowly rated players and getting the most out of their potential.
Sean Weatherspoon was an all-conference linebacker for three seasons at Mizzou and was drafted in the first round in 2010. He was a 2-star linebacker as a senior.
Ziggy Hood was only a 3-star player going into Mizzou and developed quite nicely into the NFL ranks. Many of Missouri's star players were not highly rated, which is rare for an FBS program nowadays.
Gary Pinkel loves taking players like Aldon Smith who have a chip on their shoulder because they were overlooked. This strategy has paid off for the program.
Adapting to Their Talents
This is a hard category to tangibly defend, but fans who have watched the team know its truth. Gary Pinkel and his staff do a great job playing to their team's strengths and fixing problems each year.
Last season, the team went from having one of the nation's worst secondaries to making it a strength of the team. The defense as a whole was top-five in the country in points allowed, a complete 180 from seasons past.
The elements of their spread offense vary from year to year to play off who is at quarterback and receiver. Teams know that Missouri wants to throw, yet it effectively wins games despite this.
Pinkel recently signed an extension to stay through 2017, so expect to continue to see this successful adaptability for years to come.