Missouri football team makes most of month-long break

Monday, December 27, 2010 | 6:39 p.m. CST; updated 11:40 a.m. CST, Tuesday, December 28, 2010
Missouri football coach Gary Pinkel said he is confident the way he and his team approach the month leading up to the Tigers' bowl game is effective.

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — College football bowl games are enigmas.

The roster hasn’t changed since the Missouri football team last played on Nov. 27, but with 30 days separating a win against Kansas and Tuesday’s Insight Bowl, the time around the bowl game has become its own season — not quite this season, not quite next.

Gary Pinkel will roam the sidelines of a bowl game for the seventh time as the head coach of the Tigers on Tuesday. That, of course, means seven different month-or-so-long preparations. 

Taking on the gap between games is now routine for Pinkel, and he embraces the unique nature of a bowl game. Pinkel said he is confident the way he and his team approach the month is effective. 

Pinkel led his team through its regular game-week practice routine when the Tigers arrived in the Valley of the Sun, but before departing Columbia, Pinkel previewed the 2011 Tigers while giving the 2010 Tigers some much needed rest.

The break was well received by the banged-up Tigers, especially defensive end Aldon Smith, who played most of the season with a not-fully-healed broken leg. But after a month of rest, Smith says his leg feels great, even if he wouldn’t say that it is fully healed.

“Whether it just be someone being too tired or just banged up, we’ve had injures, and this month is just like a great month for healing and getting everyone to come back like they want to come back,” Smith said. “I’m ready to go.”

The far-too-early preseason predictions for the 2011 college football season are starting come out, and so far, they are lauding the Tigers, if Smith and quarterback Blaine Gabbert come back to school. If both do, the Tigers could be a preseason top-10 team.

Smith says the bowl practices are vital for Tigers players that aren’t playing this year but will be counted on to play in 2011.

“Those definitely help out a lot, it gets everybody back in that hasn’t really gotten in,” Smith said. “Everybody has been on scout team, and you read the card, and you have to do this and you have to do that. But actually getting in the rhythm of things and getting to hit again, just getting to play football ... it gives kind of a boost, a jump start to next season.”

The Tigers played a “Future Bowl” with the young players earlier in the month, with Tristen Holt, Bud Sasser, Tyler Gabbert and Jimmie Hunt standing out, according to wide receiver, and amateur scout, Wes Kemp.

“You got to see the young guys making plays out there,” Kemp said. “It's basically an opportunity to show what they can do, and everything is being evaluated.”

“Its almost a spring practice without the scrimmages,” Pinkel said of the early practices. “To get our veteran players back, and their timing, but the emphasis … we did a little more with the younger players, with our emphasis on them. One reason that stands out is that we had a big class last year. We redshirted a lot of good players.”

While its great to have fresh players and to bring the young players into the fold, Pinkel knows the Tigers still have a football game to play, regardless of how long it has been since his team has last played.

“People talk about the layover (of) the bowl game,” Pinkel said. “That’s just the way it is, there’s no excuses for not playing your best. There’s none. I don’t care if you have six weeks, four weeks or two weeks. It really doesn’t matter, we’re all in the same position.

“The key is, can I get my football team to play their best game, regardless of that? Hopefully I can.”

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