Questions remain for Missouri football team

Tuesday, September 15, 2009 | 12:01 a.m. CDT
Missouri defensive backs Sean Weatherspoon and Carl Gettis team up to bring down Bowling Green wide receiver Freddie Barnes in Saturday's Tigers victory.

COLUMBIA — The questions have been constant, but also constantly changing.

They weren't even questions at first.

They were doubts.

How would Missouri replace six players who are now in the NFL? How would a young team fare in the spotlight?

And as quickly as the doubts arrived, a season-opening throttling of Illinois replaced the "hows" with "why nots?"

Why couldn't Missouri repeat as Big 12 North champs? Why couldn't Blaine Gabbert be the best of the Missouri quarterback bunch?

It was less than 48 hours from a cluster of doubt to the top 25. And it was was less than 40 minutes of futile offense until the doubts returned. Fourth quarter comeback wins over Bowling Green aren't the best way to impress the pollsters.

After two contrasting performances, and plenty of back and forth, the toughest question to answer may be this one:

Just how good is this team?

The truth is even the players aren't quite sure.

"I don't think we know," senior linebacker Sean Weatherspoon said. "There's so much more to be said out there."

Part of it is further tapping into flashes of ability. Throughout the preseason coach Gary Pinkel praised the types of athletes he had on his roster, but was adamant in saying that athleticism doesn't make good football players. And his players agree.

"It's just about harnessing the potential," senior guard Kurtis Gregory said. "I think we know what we're capable of, it's just a matter of achieving it."

Another part is establishing consistency. The Missouri offense looked dominant against Illinois but struggled for a majority of the game against Bowling Green. The Tigers failed to score a first-half touchdown at home for the first time since a 26-10 loss to Oklahoma in October of 2006.

"Sometimes we really don't know how good we are," Gabbert said. "I've seen some plays that our receivers make that I've never seen people make before. The talent level is always there. We just need to execute."

The sample size also contributes to uncertainty. The Tigers have played two games, and with each performance there is a tendency among the media and team alike to exaggerate each outcome's implications.

"You're never as good as you think you are," Pinkel said. "And you're generally as bad."

Weatherspoon thinks that while his team is unsure of how good they are at the moment, each game will bring the answer into clearer focus.

"There are so many more games, and so many big opportunities for us, and so many big plays to be made," Weatherspoon said. " I think we'll find out as the season goes on."

No matter how uncertain the Tigers are of where the team is at right now, they're all certain of where it needs to go.

Pinkel said that his biggest disappointment about last week's performance against Bowling Green was that his team didn't improve between it's first and second game, a result that some of Pinkel's veterans say may have come from the after-effects of a convincing win.

"You get that big win, and you got a lot of young guys on the team," Weatherspoon said. "You've got to come out with the same attitude that you did before that big win."

"(Last) Thursday I guess we came out a little unfocused (in practice)," Gregory said. "I just know that this week we've got to go out into the game and show that we're a better football team."

Gabbert said that this week's preparation would be no different than if the Tigers were playing a rival. And while praising an opponent from the Southern Conference may seem like the obligatory lip service from a Bowl Championship Series conference team, last Saturday's 27-20 squeaker has the Tigers more concerned than usual that after Saturday plenty more people will have heard of Furman.

"We just beat a Big 10 team last week," Weatherspoon said. "A MAC team took us to the wire this week. I think it kind of gets your attention really quick that anybody can come out any given week and beat you."

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