Some thoughts on the SEC/Big 12 Challenge field: I'm not here to advocate for Missouri's cause, but it's really shortsighted of ESPN and the conference to leave Mizzou out of the cycle for the next two years. This is a league (and its ESPN-owned network) that for the last few years has propped up the SEC's hoops revival based on the hires of Barnes, Pearl, Howland, etc., but when a team with an actual hoops tradition goes and lands the unanimous No. 1 player in the country, a team that will be among the most compelling stories in the SEC this year, they decide against pairing it against a team from its old conference. Makes zero sense. Yes, the Tigers are coming off three last-place finishes in the SEC, but that will be irrelevant by Jan. 27, when the league/ESPN could match Porter and Cuonzo Martin's newcomers against the likes of Oklahoma or Oklahoma State or K-State. (Of course, the leagues and the network don't have the brass to convince Bill Self that an MU-KU matchup would be good for all parties involved. I mean, who likes interesting games that would draw huge ratings and drive up interest in college hoops?) But instead we get Ole Miss at Texas and Georgia at Kansas State. Ratings bonanza!
I'm not going to tell you what to worry about, but nothing has changed for Mizzou's stakes this fall: The Tigers have to win to convince these local recruits that the program is trending in the right direction. Five of the Tiger Ten would be great for this team. I've said that all along. If you get a couple of the elite D-linemen, then maybe three or four would be just as promising. It was unrealistic to ever think MU would sign eight or more. I'll also remind anyone who's worried that it's only May. Most kids who commit early stick with their initial pledge, but MU won't stop recruiting players who will still accept recruiting.
No Porter(s), no Tilmon. Sure, Porter Sr. could have taken another job somewhere else even if Romar had been retained in Seattle, but Jr. would have a hard time asking out of his letter of intent without a head-coaching change. Same for Tilmon. The head-coaching change is the hall pass that allows signed recruits to look around and consider other options.
I touched on this earlier. Missouri has never sealed the border. Ever. Even after 12-win seasons and division titles. Kids in this state are always going to look at other schools, especially when they have offers from elite programs like Alabama, LSU, USC, Ohio State, etc. The elite prospects with the great offer lists are going to delay their decision. Mizzou has a bigger burden of proof this fall than places like Bama, Ohio State, Michigan, etc. These kids want to see if Odom has this thing headed in the right direction. They're not going to jump onboard on blind faith when they've also got offers from Saban, Meyer, Harbaugh, etc. Why have two kids committed to Nebraska already? Well, I know it's popular among some fans to downgrade the Huskers becasue they're not the program of the 1990s, but since moving to the Big Ten, Nebraska has won fewer than 9 games just once. Nebraska's win totals since switching leagues: 9, 10, 9, 9, 6, 9. They're not competing for national titles, but they're not irrelevant either. In fewer seasons in the SEC, Mizzou's had win totals of 5, 5 and 4. Hard to argue that MU is more of a sure thing than Nebraska right now. Mike Riley is a proven head coach. Odom is 4-8 as a head coach. Maybe he'll develop into a consistent winner. Maybe not. Big gamble to take if you're an 18-year-old who wants to compete for championships.
Should be on the bookshelves by the first week of the college football season, if not a little sooner. For chatters who missed my tweet this week, Nick Saban wrote the foreword for the Pinkel bio. It's tremendous. A touching and personal tribute to his former teammate and colleague.
Very. I touched on this earlier. Dumb decision by the league and ESPN. It's like basing your preseason top 25 poll on last year's bowl results. Players change, coaches change, programs change. By Jan. 27, Mizzou's program will look nothing like the one that finished in last place each of the last three years. Prediction: On the same day as the SEC/Big 12 Challenge, Mizzou will play either Auburn, LSU or Mississippi State. If it's Auburn or the Bulldogs, that will be a more entertaining game than at least four of the SEC/Big 12 games.
Agreed on Nikko. He'll play some. Martin likes what he's seen from him so far. They don't need him to score. But they'll need some rebounding and post defense. Not every player who sees minutes for a high-major team is an all-conference player. I also think Geist could have some value on this team. His game needs some refining but he plays with a fearlessness that I think can help this team. Not in the form of 20 minutes a game - or even 10. But some value in some capacity.
If so, then what's the explanation why Texas A&M is in the Challenge five of six years? Last time I checked the Aggies left the Big 12 first - and its president wrote a scathing book about the other Big 12 power brokers.
That's the $4,932,626 Question. (Self's salary per USA Today.) I truly think that if you pump Self with truth serum he would like to play Missouri. He's a smart guy. He's a competitor. He LOVED that series in the Big 12. He'd love to host the Tigers in Lawrence. He'd probably love to watch his team compete in Mizzou Arena or even the Sprint Center. But surely there are important KU boosters who want no part of playing the rival that fled the conference.
Missouri's defense lost several starters, but I'm not convinced that's a really bad thing. They'll miss Harris on the edge, no doubt. Penton, Newsom, Augusta and Hatley were good enough to sign NFL free agent contracts after going undrafted but Missouri has had better players at those respective positions in recent seasons. Maybe the next class of starters will be more productive. Penton made enough plays last year to earn All-SEC honors, but his height got him exposed several times, too. Mizzou likes having the taller corners who have taken over those jobs. There should be more upside to a healthy Beckner plus Rashad Brandon and the other incoming juco D-tackles compared to last year's rotation. I'm not convinced Mizzou's defense will be greatly improved, but I think there's reason to be hopeful for progress. Committing to one scheme is crucial, too. The defensive staff changes look like upgrades, too.
The defense has to be better this fall, no doubt. If it plays like it did late in the year, in wins over Vandy and Arkansas, and at times earlier against Georgia, then this team has the firepower on offense to get back to a bowl game and be a factor in the SEC East.
There always was an undercurrent in the Big 12 that blamed Mizzou for starting the tremors of conference realignment, some blaming Gov. Nixon's comments. Tom Osborne made very strong, compelling statements at the time, too, when Nebraska decided to leave, but he drew less criticism than Missouri's leaders for offering similar opinions. I can't really explain it. Maybe people believed Mizzou hadn't earned enough credibility to be the one complaining.
Mizzou just signed a couple linebackers last year. I'd say receiver also and defensive line.
I really can't speculate on another fan base's opinion. I'm sure there's a wide variety of opinions within the fan base.
Yes, the four noncon games are all winnable, but any team that can lose at home to Middle Tennessee can probably lose at home to Purdue a year later or on the road at UConn. I'm not saying I expect the Tigers to lose those games, but hard to say there are any guaranteed wins for a program coming off a 4-8 season with a bad defense. The last time Mizzou played at Georgia, Kentucky, Vandy and Arkansas they went 0-4. Those are the road foes this year. Is there a guaranteed win there? Auburn is a top 15 team. The game's in Columbia, but on paper that's the best team MU will play this year. I have my doubts about Florida and Tennessee, though I think South Carolina is on the upswing under Muschamp. I see a lot of toss-up games.
Missouri has only one senior, but a handful of juniors will get drafted and likely sign professionally. Houck is a goner. Catcher Brett Bond, pitchers Cole Bartlett, Andy Toelken and Bryce Montes de Oca, outfielder Trey Harris and infielder Robbie Glendinning are all draft-eligible. This is their leverage year, so unless they go way late in the draft they'll probably sign pro contracts. There's still a solid nucleus coming back next year, led by T.J. Sikkema as the presumed ace of the staff. Kameron Misner has put together a strong freshman season. Chris Cornelius will be the second baseman or shortstop. Connor Brumfield is a solid outfielder.
Assuming Jontay Porter reclassifies and is part of the 2017-18 team, Mizzou will have at least two open scholarships now going to Barnett and Robertson. Porter Jr. would be the third. Mizzou will need a wing player or two who can shoot from the perimeter. Maybe another point guard unless Roberts can share some of those duties with Harris.
Odom will be the first to admit he's more comfortable on the job this year. He has a better feel for when and when he can't delegate. I think he's got better staff chemistry with the addition of Brick Haley and his brother. Will it lead to better results? Hard to say unitl the ball is kicked off this fall. I think Barry's in a better place personally and knows what the job demands, but knowing how to manage the job and being able to - and having players good enough to win games - is not the same thing.
Simple answer is both schools scheduled other games instead. Missouri's side has said Illinois wanted to back away from the series for a few years. Both programs are under different regimes now, but they both inherited schedules from their predecessors. Managing the calendar is easier said than done, especially with the trend of scheduling games so far in advance.