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Skywriters Tour Visits Missouri
August 26, 2010
By Wendell Barnhouse | Correspondent

2009: 8-5 overall, 4-4 in North Division, tie 2nd.
Bowl game: Lost to Navy, 35-13, in Texas Bowl.
Coach: Gary Pinkel, 67-46, ninth season; 140-83-3l, 19 seasons.
Returning starters: 8 offense, 8 defense.

Key players returning
Junior QB Blaine Gabbert, senior RB Derrick Washington, senior C Tim Barnes, junior WR Wes Kemp, junior TE Michael Egnew, junior TE Andrew Jones, sophomore DE Aldon Smith, senior LB Andrew Gachkar, junior LB Will Ebner, senior DB Carl Gettis, senior DB Kevin Rutland, junior K Grant Ressel.

Impact newcomers
Freshman WR Marcus Lucas, freshman OL Nick Demien, freshman QB James Franklin, freshman DE Kony Ealy, redshirt freshman FS Matt White, freshman WR Jimmie Hunt, freshman WR Bud Sasser, redshirt freshman WR Jaleel Clark, redshirt freshman WR Kerwin Stricker.

Offensive outlook
Bright, as usual. Gary Pinkel knows how to develop productive quarterbacks; Brad Smith and Chase Daniel each blossomed in their second season as a starter. Junior Blake Gabbert proved he could play despite hobbling for half the season on a bum ankle. The offensive line is solid and senior running back Derrick Washington has improved his quickness by losing weight. (UPDATE, AUG. 27: Washington has been suspended indefinitely due to a legal issue.) The biggest question - who will catch Gabbert's passes. Replacing the big-play production of Danario Alexander is unlikely. There are a number of talented receivers on the roster but none have proved to be a go-to star.

Defensive outlook
Dreary, as usual. The 2007 unit was particularly effective during Big 12 play but the Tigers have struggled to stop teams the last two seasons. The biggest deficiency has been in the secondary, which has been frequently torched by talented passers in 2008 and 2009. Sophomore defensive end Aldon Smith is a sack machine, so pressuring QBs shouldn't be a problem. Senior Andrew Gachkar leads a solid linebacking unit while senior defensive backs Carl Gettis and Kevin Rutland have experience. Coordinator Dave Steckel is in his second season and Mizzou fans have to hope that the transition period is over.

Player on the spot
Wes Kemp … plus all of his teammates listed as wide receivers and tight ends. Missouri's offense has everything it needs to light up the scoreboard but for a top-notch receiver. After seasons featuring the likes of Chase Coffman, Jeremy Maclin and Danario Alexander, the Tigers need two or three pass catchers to emerge as play makers.

Player on the rise
Aldon Smith. As a redshirt freshman, Smith gave opposing quarterbacks and offensive coordinators nightmares. He set a school record with 11.5 sacks and also had 19 tackles for loss. With junior Jaquies Smith also a backfield threat, it will be difficult for blockers to focus just on Aldon Smith.

Number of note
As a sophomore, kicker Grant Ressel set an NCAA record for kicking accuracy. He missed just one of his placement kicks. Ressel was 39-of-39 on extra points and made 26 of 27 field goal attempts.

Quote to note
Cornerback Kevin Rutland on the need for improvement on defense: "It's humongous for our team. In order for this ship to work, both parts have to go. Offense always seems to bring their A-game. We have to match them or do better. Fall camp will be our time to focus up and learn that we have to do this every play and not take plays off."

This and that
Missouri has made 237 consecutive extra points (the last miss came in 2005 against Colorado. The NCAA record is 262 by Syracuse from 1978-89. If the Tigers break the record this season, they'll have done it in six seasons while the Orange needed 12. … Missouri has had five consecutive winning seasons resulting in five bowl games. During that span, the Tigers' 45 victories are more than any team in the North Division. … Missouri's 3.7 yards per running play last season was the team's worst since going to the spread offense in 2005. … Missouri was next-to-last in the Big 12, allowing 251.5 yards passing per game and 20 TD passes. The Tigers had just eight interceptions. … The Tigers must replace last season's top two receivers. Danario Alexander and Jared Perry combined for 2,477 receiving yards and 20 TD receptions. … Only three of Missouri's eight victories last season came against teams with winning records - Bowling Green, Nevada and Iowa State. … Last year's senior class set a record with 38 career victories.

Date book
The nonconference schedule isn't challenging. The season opener in St. Louis is against an Illinois team coming off a 3-9 season. Missouri could be 5-0 before playing its first true road game at Texas A&M on Oct. 16. The game in College Station starts a make-or-break four-game stretch that includes a home game with Oklahoma plus road trips to Nebraska and Texas Tech. If the Tigers go 3-1 in that stretch, they'll likely finish with at least 10 victories and probably win the North Division.

2010 Schedule
Sept. 4 Illinois (St. Louis)
Sept. 11 McNeese State
Sept. 18 San Diego State
Sept. 25 Miami (Ohio)
Oct. 9 Colorado*
Oct. 16 at Texas A&M*
Oct. 23 Oklahoma*
Oct. 30 at Nebraska*
Nov. 6 at Texas Tech*
Nov. 13 Kansas State*
Nov. 20 at Iowa State*
Nov. 27 Kansas* (Kansas City)
* - Big 12 Conference game.
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