PowerMizzou - Ready or not, the season's about to start
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Ready or not, the season's about to start

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If there’s a catchphrase for 2020 it would have to be “in these uncertain times.” But that’s been exhausted. The college football season has started and the phrase you’ll hear pretty much every week is one Eli Drinkwitz uttered twice within about 15 seconds on Saturday night.

“It’s unlike anything I’ve ever seen,” Missouri’s head coach said.

He was specifically referencing the daily roster shuffling (what’s that line about the deck chairs on the Titanic?) that is necessary when trying to prepare for a season in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic where your campus and the town are setting records for positive test results on a regular basis. Drinkwitz said Mizzou has seven active cases right now. But one of them came in the form of a positive test Friday which forced three players into quarantine for 14 days. Missouri plays Alabama in 14 days.

“Those guys will now be unavailable for the Alabama game,” Drinkwitz said. “Any person positive or quarantined from this point on is unavailable for the week one opponent. That’s real and that’s an interesting dynamic being two weeks out and knowing you can’t get anybody back.”

He did not name the individuals or even say what position they played. He did say, though, that Saturday marked his fifth consecutive day with a different starter at left guard. The virus has been at the forefront of college football conversations for months. But it’s different now. The games are starting. There have been some postponements. Georgia State played (and won, albeit by a point against Campbell) on Saturday despite being without 33 players. There will be weekly changes and depth charts will be worth even less than they usually are. Welcome to the 2020 college football season.

We’ve seen the impact of all the issues coaches are dealing with already. Favorites are falling on a regular basis. The Sun Belt was 2-0 against the Big 12 on Saturday (pending the result of Coastal Carolina’s game against Kansas, which hadn’t even started by the time this was written). Georgia Tech won at Florida State. Middle Tennessee and Navy staked early claim last week to the title of least prepared to start the season.

“I absolutely expect it to be kind of what we’re seeing,” Drinkwitz said. “There’s a fine line as a coach how much physicality do you use in the preseason and risk injury, how much do you not do as Navy alluded to and then you’re not prepared for the first game? So that’s the magic of coaching.”

Drinkwitz might be searching for a little magic. He referenced his own hurdles, noting that Saturday was the 17th practice he has had with the Tigers. Spring football alone would normally be nearly that long. Not this year.

“It’s going to be interesting,” he said. “I think the things we’ve got to control is our physicality, ball security and tackling.”

As far as the actual practices, Drinkwitz said they haven’t been all that different from normal. His week one opponent, Nick Saban, said the same thing on College Game Day Saturday morning.

“It takes what it takes to be successful and prepare to play a football game,” Drinkwitz said. “It costs what it costs. We go about it in the way that we feel is in the best interest.”

There’s another thing to remember, too. Nobody wants to listen to excuses.

“I don’t think any of the Kansas State fans or Iowa State fans are sitting around blaming COVID right now,” Drinkwitz said. “Nobody really cares about the excuse, they just expect the performance. Whether it’s the fifth left guard or the first left guard, they’re going to expect a performance that meets their expectation. We’ve got a lot of work to do to meet that expectation.”

Ready or not, the season is here. What the roster will look like come September 26th, nobody knows. On either side. But there’s probably going to be a game. Somebody will have to take the field. And they’re going to keep score. And message boards and social media take it easy on no team. Even in these uncertain times.

“They expect that when you compete your team wins,” Drinkwitz said. “So that’s how we prepare.”

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