On Saturday, the Missouri Tigers kick off the 2011 season, their 86th at Faurot Field, with a home game against Miami University of Ohio (11 a.m. on Fox Sports Network).
The game serves as a tune-up; one of two games on Missouri’s schedule against teams not from one of the major six conferences. But even with Missouri as a heavy favorite, Miami at least provides legitimate competition.
Miami, located in Oxford, Ohio, won the Mid-American Conference last year, capping a dramatic turnaround from a 1-11 mark in 2009 to 10-4 last year. It was the first time in NCAA history a team has gone from double-digit losses to double-digit wins in the following season.
Miami also features a talented, experienced quarterback in junior Zac Dysert as well as a solid group of receivers. The Redhawks also have arguably the best defense in the MAC.
Of course, the level of play in Mizzou’s Big 12 Conference is significantly higher than the MAC. Miami has a team that has a chance to defend its MAC crown, but Missouri probably isn’t ripe for an upset or anything like that. Last year, the Tigers defeated Miami 51-13 last year in Columbia. Missouri took all of eight seconds to score its first touchdown. That’s a long time if you’re riding a bull; not so much in a football game.
Even more, Missouri has won seven straight home games and 21 straight nonconference games.
Still, Miami provides enough of a test for Tiger fans to get some very early returns on the key questions facing the team. Here are a few key things to watch as the Tigers get their 2011 season started:
James Franklin’s accuracy Franklin takes over as Missouri’s new starting quarterback, and he’ll need to take to the position quickly as the Tigers’ second game is at Arizona State, who could be ranked in the top 25 for that game. Missouri’s system and its talent advantages against Miami should make for some very open receivers, but look to see if Franklin hits his receivers in stride and still puts his throws on the money. Times will come in future games when he’ll need to thread the needle. Of course, if Franklin makes mistakes against Miami, Redhawk cornerbacks Dayonne Nunley and D.J. Brown could make him pay.
Missouri’s secondary Missouri has relatively young players at cornerback and free safety. That Miami quarterback, Dysert, and his backup, Austin Boucher, can both be dangerous passers, so the secondary’s youth will have an early test to prepare them for that Sept. 24 date with Oklahoma and the prolific Landry Jones.
The first quarter Last year Missouri jumped out to a 21-0 first quarter lead against Miami en route to a big win. But the week before that, Missouri let San Diego State hang around and nearly lost. All the hours of preparation have finally gave way to real games, so it would be encouraging to see Missouri rise to the occasion and look good in their tune-up before the schedule gets more difficult.