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Tuesday, December 7, 2010
Missouri Tigers season recap

By ESPN.com staff
ESPN.com

Missouri's season featured the biggest win of the Gary Pinkel Era, and even though the Tigers couldn't capitalize on it for a historic season, there's nothing wrong with a 10-2 record.

Fresh off a program-altering win over then-No. 1 Oklahoma that featured a record crowd of 18,000 for College GameDay earlier in the day, the idea of a run to the national championship wasn't entirely far-fetched.

That was, until the first snap against Nebraska's offense the next week. Roy Helu Jr. keyed off a 300-yard rushing day with a 66-yard run and the Tigers found themselves down 24-0 after a quarter in an eventual 31-17 loss. A second loss the next week at Texas Tech removed the prospect of a third Big 12 North title in four years and eliminated the prospect of a truly special season, though a three-game winning streak to close the season salvaged a solid one with a third 10-win season in three years.

Unfortunately for the Tigers, what looked like the worst nonconference schedule in the conference to begin the season actually ended up being pretty good. Miami (Ohio) went from a 1-11 team to MAC champions. Illinois, picked to finish near the bottom of the Big Ten, went 4-4 in conference play and made a bowl. San Diego State also made a bowl at 8-4 and nearly knocked off TCU in Fort Worth earlier this year.

Offensive MVP: T.J. Moe, WR. Whispers of Moe's enhanced role in the offense leaked out of preseason camp, but few could have predicted just how integral he really was to the Tigers. Missouri's most consistent offensive target, Moe hauled in 77 catches for 893 yards and six touchdowns. Only Justin Blackmon, Ryan Broyles and Jeff Fuller had more receiving yards in the Big 12 this year.

Defensive MVP: Andrew Gachkar, LB. There's an argument to be made for cornerbacks Carl Gettis and Kevin Rutland, but the senior speedy linebacker was everywhere for the Tigers and came on strong late in the season with 36 of his 81 tackles in Missouri's final five games. Missouri got contributions from everyone, and really did play what you could call team defense.

Turning point: The win over Oklahoma. The first turning point announced, rather loudly, that the Tigers were for real and ready to contend for just about any title after torching Texas A&M in College Station the week before.

Turning point II: The loss to Texas Tech. The second turning point was a somewhat shocking loss that featured uncharacteristic inaccuracy by Blaine Gabbert, who couldn't bounce back from a rough outing against a great Nebraska secondary. The Tigers played well the following week against Kansas State to get back on track, but the loss in Lubbock ended up costing the Tigers a chance to play for a Big 12 Championship.

What's next: Probably more of the same. Missouri has trouble moving the ball against elite defenses who can match their speed. But the Tigers took a big step forward defensively this year, eliminating concerns in the secondary and turning the unit into a strength. We'll see if that continues with the personnel turnover in the secondary. Kip Edwards and Kenji Jackson look ready to take over with the departures of Gettis, Rutland and Jarrell Harrison. E.J. Gaines could move into a starting role opposite Edwards at corner next year. Aldon Smith's injury early in the season allowed the Tigers to discover talented young defensive ends Michael Sam and Brad Madison.