Ladies and Gentlemen, the best sports season of the year has finally returned. Break out your jerseys, your eye paint, face paint, beer cozies, and all the game day snacks that you love. College football is back with a vengeance and for two teams very near and dear to my heart, this season starts off with a bang. On September 3rd at 11:10 am the Mizzou Tigers and the Miami Redhawks will face off at Faurot Field for a rematch of last year’s game in the college season opener. Mizzou is nationally ranked this year but lost their starting quarterback. Miami is the defending MAC Champs and are coming off a 10-4 season. Now, for those of you that don’t know, I attend Miami University in Oxford Ohio. But I call Saint Louis, Missouri home, where the Mizzou pride is loud and strong. Now, I will obviously be rooting for my Redhawks to win. But before we get into who I think will win, lets take a look at the matchup between the two teams.
Missouri is coming off a 10-3 season with 8 of its 11 starters returning for the offense. Some good news for the Redhawks, Mizzou lost starting quarterback Blaine Gabbert to the NFL draft (side note, he was the 10th overall pick and went to Jacksonville), so the game will be the debut of true sophomore James Franklin at the helm of this Missouri team. Having to fill in the shoes of Gabbert is a tough job, but Franklin looked solid and confident during camp, but he will have some helping in making sure that his first game goes smoothly. Returning to protect the rookie quarterback will be two-year starter Dan Hoch at right tackle and Austin Wuebbels at right guard and 1 year starter Jason Palmgreen at left guard. Between those three, they have a combined sixty-four starts together. There’s nothing like a good foundation to give a rookie quarterback some confidence! One key thing to watch for on the Mizzou offensive line is the loss of three-year starter Elvis Fisher at left tackle. He was one of the key elements in protecting the blind sides of quarterbacks Chase Daniels and Blaine Gabbert. He will be replaced by a very skilled redshirt freshman Justin Britt. He showed great skill in the 13 games he saw last year, but this will be a big factor in the game on Saturday, as Fisher was an All-American. At the receiver position, the Tigers have an amazingly deep depth with their team. It starts with junior receiver JT Moe. He was ranked 9th in the nation in 2010 and led Mizzou with 92 receptions for 1,045 yards and 6 touchdowns. He will be a factor to slow down. The other force on offense to watch out for will be senior tight end Michael Egnew, who led the nation’s tight ends with 90 receptions. But according to reports from ESPN and Mizzou itself, look for the Tigers to play more of a running game in order to ease their new quarterback in. Miami needs to watch out for this formidable speed trio on the field: Kendial Lawrence, DeVion Moore, and Henry Joesey. Those three combined with the depth they have at receiver provides a lot of problems. At defense Mizzou is returning 8 starters to the 6th ranked scoring defense in the Big 12. Returning for the Tigers defensive line is junior LB Kip Edwards, along with Luke Lambert at LB as well. One thing to look out for on the Mizzou defensive end is the loss of DE Aldon Smith, who left for the NFL draft ( another side note, he was the 7th overall pick in the draft). The top person to replace him is junior Brad Madison, who was Big 12 All Team in 2010. Madison led Mizzou last year with 7.5 quarterback sacks. Senior DE Jacquies Smith is another player to look for, as he is currently in the running for the Lombardi Award, as he had a stellar season a year ago, with 5.5 sacks and 2 interceptions. Mizzou is a team built through and through and they will be tough to beat. Miami will have to come out strong early and try and stop the running game. If they can mess up Franklin’s rhythm, they will have shaken the newbie QB’s confidence, and that will be the key to the game. The other thing will be turnovers. Miami will have to be all over turnovers. All in all, Mizzou provides a lot of problems and competition for Miami. But, lets take a look at my Redhawks.
Last season they set an NCAA record and made history for being the first team ever to go from double-digit losses to double digit wins in a single season. Sadly, Miami lost some key players from last year that include Thomas Merriweather at TB, Armand Robinson at WR, Bob Guiley at OG, Nate Williams at OG, and Trevor Cook at kicker. Those players will be tough to replace, but looking at the team they have put together, I think Miami will be able to pull through the season extremely well. On offense, Miami returns 8 starters, including standout sophomore Nick Harwell. Last year, he averaged more then 95 receiving yards in over 9 games, with his biggest over yardage being 219 in the game against Ohio. He will be a big player to watch during the game, and look for Miami to rely heavily on him to try and break up the physical Tiger defense. Another returning player is senior receiver Chris Givens, but only if he is healthy. Givens has been plagued by injuries since 2008, but if he is healthy, he is an intimidating presence on the field. The 3rd target that Mizzou should zone in on is junior Andy Cruz. He will provide the explosiveness along with Harwell that will be needed against the Tiger defense. As for Miami’s running game, look for them to use Danny Green to help rev up the offense if the passing game is taken away. Also, look for freshman Dawan Scott to get some playing time and to mix up the spread. He is a bullet on the field, so he will be much needed. Mix him in with Harwell and Cruz, and Mizzou will have a handful with those three. But, with the dismissal of TB Tracey Woods, the running game is looking a little thin for Miami. The quarterback situation could not be better at Miami. Junior Zac Dysert, the starter from last year returns after a devastating injury that cut his season short. He is back, and after watching him in camp, he looks like he’s been playing in the NFL for years. His backup, sophomore Austin Boucher, has some serious control; so don’t be surprised if he gets some playing time as well. Overall, on offense, Miami looks very formidable, as they get ready to defend their title as the MAC East Champs this season. Last season, their offensive and defensive line was pressured into being more physical, and I think that that will pay off well for them against Mizzou. On a defensive front, Miami returns 7 starters, and they have a very strong defensive line. Last year, Miami only allowed 2.56 yards per rush in the red zone. Returning for Miami is junior tackle Austin Brown and senior linebacker Jerrell Wedge. Brown had an outstanding 2010 season, with 40 tackles, 10 of which were for loss of yards, 3 of them sacks, two forced fumbles, two hurries, two breakups, two blocked kicks, and a fumble recovery. He will be a deciding factor in this game. He will be the reason that Franklin loses his confidence and falls apart. Mizzou will have to be all over him, like white on rice. According to the Miami coaches, Wedge is described as a premier run stopper. He holds the team record for tackles, which he has 101 of. Brown and Wedge are not the only formidable pair on Miami’s defense, unfortunately for Mizzou. Helping them out will be junior defensive end Jason Semmes, who had six sacks last year among his 34 tackles in 13 games. While the front seven of Miami’s defense is extremely strong and filled with upperclassmen leaders, the backfield is certainly not lacking in the slightest. The problem for Miami last year was the pure fact that their players were inexperienced. This year, Miami returns junior D.J. Brown, who led Miami with 13 pass break ups last year. Also returning will be sophomore Dayonne Nunley started last year as a freshman and finished out his first season with 5 interceptions. Now, last year’s kicker has sadly departed as last year he was a fifth year senior. But, Miami is in good hands with sophomore kicker Mason Krysinki. He started when Trevor Cook got hurt at the end of last season and performed extremely well. As long as Miami can figure out whom to put in at running back, they have an extremely good chance to repeat as MAC Champs and compete for another bowl bid this season.
Overall, this game is looking to be a very competitive one. The one thing that Miami will have to do is to make sure they come out strong and to not let Mizzou settle into a rhythm. This is the Tigers home turf, and if this game is a repeat of the first 7 seconds of last year’s game, the Redhawks are completely done for. That being said, if the Redhawks come out strong and play their game, they are going to give Mizzou a run for their money. Still, in the end, as much as I love my school, I understand the difference between the MAC and the Big 12. I pick Mizzou in this match up to win this one 35 to 14. It will be a close game, no doubt about that. But in the end, Mizzou is a very good team this year, and its at their house. But, and this is what I love most about college football, is that the season openers are famous for having the most spectacular upsets.