Mizzou preview: Looking ahead to the 2023 Tiger football season

Published: Aug. 29, 2023 at 4:10 PM CDT
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COLUMBIA, Mo. (KCTV) - An experienced Missouri Tigers team is set to begin the 2023 season Thursday night at Faurot Field.

And this year’s team of Tigers will attempt to answer the question, ‘Can defense still win championships?’ In preseason interviews, various Tigers told KCTV there’s a feeling in Columbia that defensive coordinator Blake Baker’s group could be one of the best in the country.

“I feel like we can be the best defense in the country,” said linebacker Ty’Ron Hopper.

“We have an opportunity to be the best defense in the country,” echoed linebacker Chad Bailey.

Perhaps no team in the country matched Mizzou’s emotional roller coaster in 2022. For the third consecutive year under head coach Eli Drinkwitz the Tigers closed the season at -- or within a game of -- a .500 record, following a close loss to Wake Forest in the Gasparilla Bowl. Now, Mizzou is set to take the next step.

“We got a lot of guys with the same attitude,” said defensive lineman Darius Robinson. “We are just desperate, just trying to win at all costs.”

WATCH: MIZZOU PREVIEW: Looking ahead to the Tigers’ 2023 football season

Missouri returns the second-most starters of any team in the SEC. The Tigers bring back 13 starters from last season’s team -- eight of whom are on the defensive side of the ball.

Last season, the Tigers allowed 25.2 points per game, a mark that had them in the top half of the FBS. The group is also being endorsed by the Tigers’ offense.

“They’re the best in the country,” said running back Cody Schrader. “I personally believe that.”

On the offensive side of the ball, Missouri has seen flashes of brilliance. Now, it’s about upping the ante -- in terms of consistency and explosiveness.

“Yeah, we got some athletes,” said Robinson.

To do that, they’ll have to find an answer to their quarterback question.

Whether it’s returning starter Brady Cook, Miami (FL.) transfer Jake Garcia or redshirt freshman Sam Horn, Missouri has three quarterbacks to choose from. Drinkwitz said the man who wins the job will make it clear to his teammates.

Cook and Horn are expected to split time during Thursday’s season-opener against South Dakota. Last season, Cook completed 64.8 percent of his passes for 2,739 yards and 14 touchdowns to go along with seven interceptions. He also rushed for 585 yards and six touchdowns, despite playing the season through a torn labrum in his throwing shoulder.

“I’ve already said that multiple quarterbacks are going to play,” Drinkwitz said before his fourth season as Mizzou head coach. “You may not find out until the game, but the starter is going to reveal himself to his teammates.”

Soon enough, Mizzou fans will find out if the hype meets expectations.

“I am gonna keep saying it,” Cook said, “out of my four years here I am most excited about the team we have right now. I don’t think there’s a ceiling. It’s about execution and just getting it done.”