1. The Future Of Missouri Football: The Mizzou administration provided security for football coach Eli Drinkwitz in the form of a contract extension that included a generous raise. Surely these people were smart enough to set aside money to pay Drinkwitz off should they decide to make a coaching change if he can’t show true progress in 2023. After three seasons Coach Drink is 17-19 overall, but let’s take a closer look at the record after subtracting games against FCS opponents and blood donors that are paid to give MU an easy win to concoct a misleading resume:
— 11-15 in the SEC.
— 3-13 in road and neutral-site games.
— 2-9 against ranked teams.
— 0-2 in bowl games.
— 15-19 vs. FBS teams.
— 4-14 vs. winning FBS teams.
— 11-18 vs. Power 5 teams.
— 6-13 vs. Power 5 teams over the last two seasons.
Drinkwitz was hired for his rising-star schemer on offense. But over the last two seasons MU has ranked 11th and 12th respectively among SEC teams in points per game in conference play. And over the same two years the Tigers have been ranked 10th and 12th respectively in the SEC in points per game against FBS opponents.
Per the Football Outsiders metrics, this season the Missouri offense ranked 71st in overall offensive efficiency, 90th in scoring value per drive, 94th in the percentage of drives that result in a touchdown, 104th in the percentage of drives that included at least one first down made, and 91st in the percentage of drives that ended in a fumble or interception.
Is there any excuse for an offense to be this barren in a coach’s third season – especially after the coach was hired based on his reputation for creative choreography on offense? Heck, it’s been three years and Drinkwitz still is searching for a quarterback that he trusts to give Mizzou a viable downfield passing attack.
Brady Cook – recruited by previous MU head coach Barry Odom – is a nifty runner and a tough competitor. But Cook attempted 100 passes to receiving targets that were set up behind the line of scrimmage, the fourth-highest total among Power 5 quarterbacks. And Cook ranked 53rd among 76 qualifying P-5 quarterbacks with a 32% percent completion percentage on throws of 20+ yards. As far as I’m concerned, four-star recruit Sam Horn doesn’t exist unless he plays a lot. And in 2022, the true freshman appeared for one series in a 45-14 homefield rout of New Mexico State late in the season. That’s it.
The industry has changed. The days of five-year building projects are gone. The timetable is shorter and we’re seeing coaches turn programs around in two years or less. We’re talking about TCU, Tennessee, USC, South Carolina and Illinois … among others.
Josh Heupel is 10-2 in his second year at Tennessee and was ranked as high as No. 2 this season. He’s 17-8 overall in two seasons after taking over a corrupt program that had players fleeing into the transfer portal. The Volunteers had lost 27 of 47 games over four seasons until Heupel took control.
South Carolina was 6-16 in 2019 and 2020. Shane Beamer was hired as head coach in 2021, and the Gamecocks are 15-10 in his first two years and can go 9-4 this season by defeating Notre Dame in the Gator Bowl.
After going 16-18 in Gary Patterson’s final three seasons, TCU is 12-1 under dynamic first-year coach Sonny Dykes. The Horned Frogs will face Michigan on Saturday in the national playoff semifinals.
The famed USC program had fallen into a state of mediocrity until hiring Lincoln Riley at the end of last season; in his year the Trojans can finish 12-2 with a win over Tulane in the Cotton Bowl.
Another example is Oregon State, which hired Jonathan Smith to rebuild a wretched mess of a program that had been largely irrelevant for years and years. By his third season Smith had a winning record (7-6) and followed that up in 2022 by winning 10 of 13 games including a blow-out victory over SEC representative Florida in the Las Vegas Bowl.
It’s a crazy and chaotic time to be a coach, with the advent of the NIL and the transfer portal. But it’s up to head coaches to adapt and find ways to make the new operating system work to his advantage.
Mizzou is 25-41 in the SEC since the start of the 2015 season, and the program is stuck in a rut of four consecutive non-winning seasons.
Earlier this week the Drinkwitz contract extension was a laughing-matter topic on the Paul Finebuam’s show, viewed nationally on the SEC Network
Drinkwitz will have a fourth season to get the Tigers rolling and winning. And if he can’t do that, it will be time for him to move on.
2. Great Opportunity For Coach Dennis Gates and Missouri Basketball: Kentucky invades Mizzou Arena on Wednesday night to take on Mizzou in a sold-out environment. This is a biggie for the Tigers, who can add to the credibility and excitement generated by last week’s 21-point demolition of Illinois in the Bragging Rights game in St. Louis.
At KenPom.com, Kentucky (8-3) is ranked No. 10 nationally, and Missouri (11-1) has moved up to No. 43. The Wildcats are a 3-point favorite in the betting markets, and KenPom gives Mizzou a 40 percent chance to win the game.
Keys for Mizzou:
— Swarm Kentucky’s massive 6-9, 260-pound force Oscar Tshiebwe, who routinely bullies opponents at both ends of the floor. His name appears on the KenPom national leaderboards for offensive efficiency, offensive rebounding, defensive rebounding, blocked shots, and steals. The Tigers will have to use their quick-hands defense to pester the big man.
— It’s imperative for Mizzou to keep Tshiebwe off the boards to cut down on Kentucky’s offensive rebounds. This is a potential vulnerability for the Tigers. Here’s why: Kentucky ranks 12th nationally in offensive rebound percentage (37.6) and Missouri is No. 346 at denying offensive rebounds.
— Missouri has to continue buzzing for steals and finding ways to distract Kentucky into turnovers. The Tigers are No. 1 nationally in steals percentage (17%) and rank 4th by getting opponents to turn the ball over on 26.5% of possessions. A lot of this has to do with MU’s mostly soft schedule, but the Tigers had 13 steals against Illinois, forced 17 Illini turnovers, and converted those turnovers into 33 points. The home team must disrupt the Wildcats in a similar way.
— Missouri could be in for a frustrating, unsuccessful night if it can’t do enough to defend Kentucky’s ace three-point shooting. The Wildcats rank No. 3 nationally in 3-point shooting percentage (39.9%). And Mizzou ranks 327th in defending threes, allowing a shooting percentage of 37.7%.
This is a fantastic opportunity for Missouri to open SEC play with a bang. Gates has made a positive first impression. The Tigers have become a team to watch. They are entertaining. They are effective on offense and defense. The SEC site, Saturday Down South, has Missouri at No. 4 in the latest conference Power Rankings behind Arkansas, Alabama and Tennessee.
3. The Blues: A Negative Trend Continues. The Blues went down Wednesday in a 5-4 overtime loss to the visiting Toronto. At least the Blues collected a point. But once again your favorite team failed to win a game in regulation, and that’s been a common occurrence this season. In their first 35 games the Blues have won only 11 times in regulation. Their regulation record is 11-16-8 for a points percentage of .429. That ranks 23rd among the 32 NHL teams.
The Blues’ .429 points percentage in games decided in regulation would be the worst in a season for the franchise since the sad-sack Blues finished with the NHL’s worst overall record (21-46-15) in 2005-2006. That team was 14-46-22 in games settled in regulation for a points percentage of .305.
4. The Blues are 16-16-3. They have picked up at least a point in eight of their last 11 games. But that isn’t doing a lot to enhance their playoff chances, which is listed as a 10 percent probability at MoneyPuck. The Blues must stop leaving points on the ol’ table. Having said that, the boys erased deficits of 3-1 and 4-3 on Wednesday, and I appreciate that. I would have more appreciation for the Blues if they didn’t put themselves in unfavorable situations. I’d much prefer to see the urgency from the beginning. The Blues have held the lead for an average of 16 minutes 23 seconds per game this season. On average, only seven NHL teams have led games for a lesser amount of time than the Blues in 2022-2023.
5. Lack Of Effort. Unacceptable. The Maple Leafs scored the overtime winner on a goal by William Nylander because Vladimir Tarasenko couldn’t be bothered to exert himself with the game on the line. Nylander breezed by the flat-footed spectator in the No. 91 sweater to give Toronto a two-point visit to St. Louis.
In Wednesday’s loss the Blues were outscored 4-2 by Toronto with Tarasenko on the ice, and he was minus 3 in goal differential at even strength. Tarasenko was also part of the power-play unit that gave up a shorthanded goal to the Leafs. This season Tarasenko is a minus 14 at even strength – which would be the poorest of his career in 11 seasons with the Blues.
6. The AFC Playoffs Should Be A Thrill. If you enjoy watching outstanding quarterback play, then the battle for the AFC Championship should be wildly entertaining. If the playoff field was set today, here’s the list of AFC starting quarterbacks: Patrick Mahomes (KC), Josh Allen (Buffalo), Joe Burrow (Cincinnati), Lamar Jackson (Baltimore), Justin Herbert (LA Chargers), Trevor Lawrence (JAX), and Tua Tagovailoa (Miami.) Two asterisks: Jackson is currently sidelined with a knee injury but is expected to return before the postseason. And Tagovailoa is in the concussion protocol right now – coping with his second head injury (at least) of the season. His status going forward is uncertain.
The top five highest-scoring teams in the AFC would be represented in the postseason: Kansas City, Buffalo, Cincinnati, Miami and Jacksonville. And the LA Chargers are 7th in scoring in the conference, so the AFC tournament would feature six of the top seven leaders in average points per game.
All of the quarterbacks cited here were first-round draft choices. They are young and talented and have many years to go. Mahomes, 27, is the oldest on the list.
7. Update On Our Town’s Bradley Beal: Rumors persist that the Los Angeles Lakers are interested in acquiring Beal from the Washington Wizards in a trade to give the Lake Show a strong third scorer and generator to join LeBron James and Anthony Davis. But nothing will happen unless Beal, who has a full no-trade clause, asks to be dealt to the Lakers. There’s nothing serious at this point. But Beal’s injury issues are serious. For the second time this season he’s been sidelined with a strained hamstring.
That follows a lengthy absence due to wrist surgery that cut short his 2021-2022 season. In fact, Beal has played in only 69 percent of Washington’s regular-season games over the last four seasons. Beal is presently in the first season of a five–year contract extension that will pay a remarkable $251 million.
In between injuries Beal, 29, is averaging 23.5 points per game and shooting a career-best .527 from the floor this season. But here’s the best stat on Beal: this season in clutch situations – defined as the final five minutes of a game with a five-point margin separating the two teams – Beal has made 68 percent of his shots from the field. That’s the highest clutch percentage on the Wizards and rates among the best in the NBA.
8. Final Blues Bit: The Blues were doing a swell job of preventing goals for a while, limiting opponents to a total of seven even-strength goals during a five-game stretch that ended Dec. 19. But that trend didn’t last. The Blues have been pelted for 12 even-strength goals in their last three games.
9. Can Ohio State Topple Georgia? Am I looney-tunes to think No. 4 Ohio State can upset No. 1 Georgia – or at the very least, cover the spread as a 6.5 point underdog? I think Ohio State is more dangerous BECAUSE of their humiliating 45-23 home loss to Michigan back on Nov. 26. I got to thinking about this angle after reading a quote from Georgia coach Kirby Smart, who talked about how the then-unbeaten Dawgs recovered from a bad loss to Alabama in the 2021 SEC Championship game to reset and come back better than ever to defeat Alabama in last season’s national-title bout.
“You recalibrate, and you look back, and sometimes the reality of your weaknesses pop up a lot more in a loss,” Smart said. “We like to say, ‘Why you gotta lose to learn?’ You shouldn’t have to do that. But it certainly is a wake-up call on teams I’ve been with. It re-centered everybody and refocused everybody. But obviously, we’ve tried to do that without (losing this year.)”
All of that said, I still can’t shake the way Ohio State quarterback C.J. Stroud folded in the second half of the smackdown by Michigan, with the Buckeyes scoring only three points over the final two quarters. I don’t trust him in the REALLY big games. Georgia 37, Ohio State 30.
10. Will No. 2 Michigan face a live threat in the matchup against No. 3 TCU? The Wolverines are favored to win by 7.5 points. As much as I’ve loved watching TCU play this season, I don’t think Michigan will screw up enough to give TCU the opening for an upset. Michigan 37, TCU 26.
Thanks for reading …
Bernie invites you to listen to his opinionated and analytical sports-talk show on 590 The Fan, KFNS-AM. It airs Monday through Thursday from 3-6 p.m. and Friday from 4-6 p.m. You can listen by streaming online or by downloading the show podcast at 590thefan.com or the 590 app.
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