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College Football End of Season Analysis: Missouri Tigers

2010 CFBZ Prediction: 2nd Place in Big 12 North 
2010 Actual Finish: Tied for 1st place in the Big 12 North (10-3, 6-2)

Missouri started out the season sky high by winning their first seven games including a huge victory over then Oklahoma. After knocking off the Sooners, the Tigers took the #6 spot in the Nation into Lincoln Nebraska but fell 31 to 17 after falling behind by 24 points in the very first quarter. The loss to Nebraska hurt but it was the lost the very next week against Texas Tech that would keep them out of the Big 12 Championship game. Missouri closed the season by winning 3 straight against Big 12 North foes before falling to an underachieving Iowa team at the Insight Bowl to finish the year 10-3.

From 2009 to 2010 the Missouri defense decreased their points allowed from 25.4 all the way down to just 16.1 per game which ranked them 6th in the Nation in scoring defense. Missouri also had a turnover margin of +11. When you think of Missouri you think of offense but it was an improved defense that helped them to their 10-3 mark this year. We caught up with the SB Nation Missouri Blog Rock M Nation to get their take on the 2010 Tigers and get a sneak peak into 2011. 

1. Missouri finished 10-3 and 6-2 in the Big 12. It was pretty much where you had predicted them to finish in our Pre-Season Preview. What were your favorite memories from the 2010 season?

I don't think there's any doubt that one game/weekend will stand out above all else when Tiger fans look back at 2010. The date 10/23/10 is now forever etched in Mizzou lore as perhaps the best homecoming weekend ever for the school that is recognized as the birthplace of homecoming. The win against Oklahoma, and everything that surrounded it, wasn't just the win of the year, it's been called by many a "once in a generation" type of weekend. College GameDay made its first appearance in Columbia and Mizzou fans promptly rewrote the GameDay attendance record by packing 18,000 people onto the quad. They packed Faurot Field that night and helped every step of the way as Gary Pinkel got the "Oklahoma monkey" off of his back. From the moment Gahn McGaffie – an up-man, no less – ran the opening kickoff back for a touchdown, Mizzou knew something special could happen that night. And it did.

2. If you could have a "re-do" for one game which would it be?

We'll ignore the Iowa loss and take it for what it is: a tough bowl loss against a solid team. That leaves Mizzou's only other two losses up for deliberation. The Nebraska loss was crippling not just because of its ramifications, but primarily because of how it happened. Mizzou could not have looked more helpless in the first quarter, as the Huskers rolled up and down the field with no resistance and Blaine Gabbert was already under siege and taking fire. Mizzou did fight back to make the score semi-respectable for those that didn't watch the game, but for those who did, it was an ugly loss by nearly any qualifier you choose.

That leaves the other loss, a road loss to Texas Tech, which I think would be my personal "re-do" game simply because it was one Missouri should have won. Two 70-yard touchdown runs in the first quarter made it look like Missouri was going to waltz through with a win, but the Mizzou offense disappeared and Taylor Potts replaced Steven Sheffield and re-energized Tech. The Nebraska loss was the one that could have meant a Big 12 North title for Missouri, but it was the Tech loss that really sticks in the sides of Mizzou fans because it was one that the Tigers really should have been able to close out.

3. Blaine Gabbert has thrown for over 3,000 yards in each of the last two years but has declared for the NFL draft. Who is waiting in the wings to replace him?

The presumptive starter at this point will be sophomore James Franklin, who saw minimal time in 2010 as the No. 2 behind Gabbert. Franklin is going to be a bit of a different look from Gabbert, as he lacks the cannon Gabbert had but also possesses a few other skills Gabbert didn't. He is considered a "mobile" or "dual-threat" quarterback, but those labels can often unintentionally degrade a quarterback's ability as a passer. Franklin throws with good touch and throws an extremely catchable ball, much like Chase Daniel did, though we're still unsure about his ability as a downfield passer simply because he was never given the chance to air it out. Additionally, if Franklin gets the nod, it should mean a bit of an overhaul for the Missouri running game, as his inclusion in the offense means Missouri can insert the zone read as a staple in the running game. He'll have a bit of a battle for the job in camp, as Tyler Gabbert (Blaine's younger brother) came on strong during bowl practices, but at the moment, it's Franklin's job to lose.

4. Who were the most surprising players this season?

Offensively, you could pick from any one of the trio of tailback Henry Josey, receiver T.J. Moe or tight end Michael Egnew. All were outstanding in 2010 despite having contributed almost nothing in prior years (Josey was a true freshman, and Moe and Egnew entered the season with nine combined career receptions). All three played instrumental roles in Mizzou's offensive success, as Moe wrote himself into Mizzou lore with the "Moe Miracle" late in Mizzou's improbable comeback against San Diego State and Egnew became next in line as another All-American tight end at Missouri. But I think the two most surprising players on Missouri's team this season were on defense. Safety Jarrell Harrison was considered by some to be the team's most unheralded player and perhaps the defensive MVP. He was third on the team in tackles with 69 and picked up two interceptions, and while his numbers aren't mind-boggling, he was a steadying presence in the Missouri defensive backfield, especially once he was asked to lead even more upon the suspension of safety Jasper Simmons. Harrison even played at linebacker against Iowa State – the first time he had done so since grade school – to help defensive coordinator Dave Steckel deal with attrition at the position. The other surprise defensively was end Brad Madison, who led Mizzou with 7.5 sacks, including 3.0 against Texas A&M while filling in for an injured Aldon Smith. His play in 2010 is why fans aren't jumping off ledges with Smith's declaration for the NFL.

5. What does Missouri need to do to improve this off-season so it can challenge for the Big 12 (or whatever they will be calling it) Title?

Mizzou's chances at the Bevo Ten Championship (see what I did there?) aren't necessarily going to be based on what they can improve but rather what they can replace. Mizzou only lost four senior starters total on both sides of the ball and then lost its two NFL-bound players. The quarterback situation will receive the multitude of the spotlight, and for obvious reasons. Missouri should feel largely confident in its ability to replace Aldon Smith at defensive end, but the really pressing need Missouri will find itself with is the defensive backfield. After being the team's weak link in 2008 and 2009, the defensive backfield was outstanding in 2010, but it now loses two seniors at cornerback with six combined years of starting experience in Carl Gettis and Kevin Rutland, as well as Harrison, mentioned above. Mizzou coaches and reporters say they've been recruiting much better athletes at defensive back, and now it's time to prove it. Cornerbacks Kip Edwards and E.J. Gaines both looked very solid during their appearances in 2010, and Missouri's shot at the conference may rest on their ability to assume starting roles with minimal trouble.

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