After a solid 2003 season, the long wait for football to return to Missouri has ended.
The Tigers will begin preseason practice at 3:45 p.m. today in Memorial Stadium. The preseason period will continue for 23 more practices, two scrimmages and conclude with the home opener Sept. 4 against Arkansas State.
The Tigers, who finished last season with a 27-14 loss to Arkansas in the Independence Bowl, enter the season surrounded with increased expectations and excitement.
An 8-5 overall record (4-4 Big 12 Conference) in 2003 sent the Tigers to a bowl for the first time since 1999, and the Tigers earned the No. 17 spot in the ESPN/USA Today Coaches Preseason Poll. It marks the first time since 1980 the Tigers have earned a spot in a preseason poll.
“We’re certainly excited every year at this time,” coach Gary Pinkel said at the Big 12 Media Days on July 20.
“The personality starts to change a little bit. It’s a process we started back in January. There’s a lot of work going on in our system, in strength and conditioning.”
Junior quarterback Brad Smith leads an offense that finished 2003 ranked sixth in the nation in rushing offense, averaging 237.5 yards. Smith was named to the media’s All-Big 12 Preseason Team.
The Tigers, though, must find replacements for their offensive line, which lost three players who started at least 12 games. That group includes center A.J. Ricker, who started 47 straight games.
It must also replace tailback Zack Abron, who set the school record for rushing yards in a career with 3,198 yards.
On defense, nine starters return, but the Tigers plan to make changes to their base formation. To help stop the run, the Tigers plan to use a 4-3 formation, installing another linebacker to clog the middle.
Stopping the run represents the Tigers’ most pressing defensive issue, for they allowed several late-season opponents to run easily. Arkansas gained 300 yards in the Independence Bowl, and Kansas State amassed 367 yards in a 24-14 win against the Tigers on Nov. 22.
Senior linebacker James Kinney and junior defensive tackle C.J. Mosley, who were named to the All-Big 12 Preseason Team, lead the defense.
The Wildcats are the early favorite to win the Big 12 North division, according the media. Missouri is second and Nebraska, which the Tigers play on Oct. 30, follow. Colorado, Kansas and Iowa State are the bottom three in the preseason standings.
If the Tigers want to live up to the lofty prognostications, their play on the road must improve. The Tigers went 2-5 in games away from Memorial Stadium last season.
Although fans cannot attend today’s practice, they may attend the Tigers’ Fan Day on Sunday at Memorial Stadium. The gates open for the event at 4 p.m.
The Tigers first preseason scrimmage is scheduled for Aug. 21, and the second will be Aug. 26.