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July 1, 2009

Powered Up: Gabbert not the only key

Over the next month, leading up to the start of fall camp, PowerMizzou.com will preview the Tigers at every position on the field and examine a number of the questions facing one of the most intriguing seasons in the 120-year history of the Missouri program. To get yourself ready for the 2009 campaign, try out our free seven-day trial.

It is a common thought that the 2009 Missouri football season will ride almost solely on the shoulders (more specifically, the right shoulder) of Blaine Gabbert. To be honest, my initial idea for my first commentary about the 2009 season was to write a lot of things that supported this idea.

Then, I started thinking how stupid that would be.

Gary Pinkel is fond of opining that football is the greatest game in the world because it's the only one where you can put 5-foot-10, 160-pound guys on the same field with 6-foot-8, 330-pound guys and they're playing the same game. The point is, football is the ultimate team sport.

In baseball, a great starting pitcher or two can win you a World Series even without much of an offense. Three big sluggers can hit the ball over the fence enough to cover up a questionable rotation. In basketball, one or two great players can overcome a complete team to win a title. In football, one player, no matter how great, can't win you squat. Ask Dan Marino. Ask John Elway before he got Terrell Davis. Put Peyton Manning behind the Chiefs offensive line with the Chiefs receivers and defense and see how many games he wins.

Is Gabbert's performance important? There's no doubt. To be honest-and if Blaine is reading this I don't think it's going to be much of a surprise to him-Gabbert is the biggest reason most are predicting the Tigers to have a down year. It's not really offensive to him. He just has one problem: He's not Chase Daniel.

Now, first of all, that's kind of ironic. I mean, Chase Daniel was downgraded his entire life because he wasn't Blaine Gabbert. By that, I mean he wasn't 6-foot-5, 230 pounds with a rifle attached to his right shoulder. Now, the Tigers have that guy that you look at and think, "NFL quarterback," and he's the reason Missouri isn't supposed to be any good.

I can't really tell you what to expect out of Blaine Gabbert. If they're honest, I don't think Pinkel or David Yost could either. In Daniel's first season as a starter, he was replacing a quarterback that many deemed irreplaceable. The sophomore completed 64% of his passes for 3,528 yards, 28 touchdowns and ten interceptions. The Tigers were better with him than they'd ever been with Brad Smith.

But why was that? It had a lot to do with Tony Temple's first 1,000-yard season (1,063 to be exact) and the fact he had at least four future NFL receivers on the roster (five if Tommy Saunders catches on). It had a good amount to do with the fact that the defense allowed more than 26 points just twice in 13 games. In other words, the team was better because, quite simply, the team was better.

I said earlier that Gabbert was the biggest reason prognosticators don't much seem to like Missouri. But he's not the only one. Missouri did lose six players (none of them named Chase Daniel) to the NFL Draft, including perhaps the most dynamic player ever to don a Tiger uniform (Jeremy Maclin), the most productive pass catcher in school history (Chase Coffman), the all-time leader in interceptions (William Moore) and a fairly underrated pass-rusher (Stryker Sulak).

How the Tigers replace those players will have as much-or maybe more-to do with the success-or failure-of the 2009 season as Gabbert's performance.

There is all kinds of pressure on Gabbert. He should ignore it. But the rest of us would be silly to deny it. If the Tigers fall off significantly from the team that posted 30 victories over the past three years with Daniel as a starter, most will look at him. Few will wonder how much losing the starting right tackle (Colin Brown) mattered. Even fewer will wonder how much Missouri missed Ziggy Hood's presence in the middle. Almost no one will take into account the fact that the Tigers lost the most accurate kicker in NCAA history (Jeff Wolfert).

Make no mistake, if the Tigers falter, Gabbert will be the one drawing most of the criticism. But it doesn't make it fair. And, more importantly, it doesn't make it accurate.

Over the next month, leading up to the start of fall camp, PowerMizzou.com will preview the Tigers at every position on the field and examine a number of the questions facing one of the most intriguing seasons in the 120-year history of the Missouri program. To get yourself ready for the 2009 campaign, try out our free seven-day trial.


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