While we’re only a few short weeks away from 2022’s first kick-off in Columbia, Missouri’s Truman Field, we are a long way from the 2014 Missouri Tigers football team that won 10 games in a season that culminated in the SEC Championship game which saw the Tigers battling for the conference title. Coming off one of their better recruiting classes to date, this is a good program that has the potential to be great. Albeit, the SEC is a tough conference to be great in because you want to be the best, you need to beat the best. For Mizzou, even losing to perennial powerhouses Alabama, Auburn, Georgia, and Florida but being competitive is almost as good as a win. Showing would-be recruits that Mizzou belongs in the SEC is a big step to gaining traction each year.
The Tigers have beat up bad teams since entering the SEC. In 2022, the Missouri Tigers will need to continue being good against bad teams to ensure a winning season. This is a requirement to get to .500. Finishing with more wins than losses may not mean much for some programs, but for this rebuilding Missouri team it would be something that has not been accomplished since the departure of Coach Gary Pinkel. As treacherous as the SEC can be, the Tigers can navigate the 2022 schedule to the tune of eight wins if a few things go right.
1) Coach Eli Drinkwitz needs complete buy-in from the offensive unit, which starts with a commitment to one player at quarterback. Brady Cook was impressive in the Texas Bowl against Army in a losing effort going 27 for 34 and completing 79% of his passes. Tyler Macon saw limited action in three games in 2021 and will be an attractive option in 2022. Drinkwitz will need to allow whoever is chosen at QB to fail. The consistent but average play of Connor Bazelak was effective, but after a mediocre 2021 and sitting out the Texas Bowl in favor of Brady Cook, he transferred to Indiana. After the Texas Bowl, many assumed the quarterback job was Brady Cook’s to lose if Jack Abraham did not transfer to Mizzou, but he did. Jack Abraham had a stellar three years at Southern Miss and is the most experienced of the bunch. Jack Abraham should be the starter. Four-star recruit Sam Horn will have plenty of time to shine later. Barring injury to the others, I would not expect much from Horn in 2022. Whoever is under center Eli Drinkwitz needs to ride them until the wheels fall off. A firm commitment is important for the success of the team and the comfort level of the offense. The team needs an on-field leader more than ever this season.
2) A sure and true commitment to the running game. You cannot dip your toe here. With an unproven passing game and an above-average running game, this is how the Tigers beat bad teams, win against fringe squads, and compete with great teams. Mizzou will not beat Florida, Auburn, or Georgia, but Kentucky, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Arkansas can be beaten. The Tigers will prevail by trusting in the most stable piece of the team – the offense line, and the running back core. The Tigers return most of the offensive line which was a bright spot in 2021. The health of the line is paramount to the success of the team. The Tigers do not offer a stout defense; thus, scoring is a requirement. The running game will go as the offensive line does.
3) The stars must shine, and none bigger than wide receiver, Luther Burden. Luther is the truth, no lie. It is tremendous pressure for a first-year player on the big stage, but he is up for the challenge. Burden will not have to wait around for his opportunity to contribute. Coach Drinkwitz will immediately insert him into the lineup. Few players can impact the game the way we expect Luther Burden to this season. Drinkwitz is up for whatever it takes to get him the ball. Anxious for a winning season, he is going to use all the weapons at his disposal. Burden is the best weapon in Tiger holster.
4) The defense must be good against the teams Missouri is not supposed to beat. The defense will draw momentum, even in losses. Not allowing the great teams to hang 40-plus points is a victory in many ways. The defense is well improved year over year. Through transfers and some returning players, the Tigers will be a better defensive team. That may not be saying much, since they were nearly the worst defensive team in the SEC last year, but the Tigers will be much better on this side of the ball. The team will improve against the pass. The Tigers were gashed last season on the ground, so it will not be hard to be better, but they will be much better. This is the greatest area of improvement. Transfers Joseph Charleston and Ty’Ron Hopper add to a returning core that will help solidify the Mizzou defense.
5) Home games against Arkansas and Kentucky will decide if the Tigers can best the .500 mark. The Tigers host both teams late in the season, allowing time to work out the kinks and commit to a process and a designated offensive unit. This team would not meet Alabama or Georgia standards, but do not get it twisted this is a good Missouri team, especially offensively. Mizzou should start the season 3-0. The toughest test comes early against Kansas State on the road. They will then have a brutal stretch with consecutive matchups against Auburn, Georgia, and Florida. It is unlikely, but should they pull a win from any of these three teams, they coast to a better win than loss season. If not, they will need to beat either Arkansas, Kentucky, or both.
Wins: Louisiana Tech, Kansas State, Abilene Christian, Vanderbilt, Kentucky, Tennessee, New Mexico State, Arkansas
Losses: Auburn, Georgia, Florida, South Carolina