Stop Brad Smith: It's the easy answer to beating the Tigers but one of the hardest tasks in college football
One fall morning in 1999, when Gary Pinkel was the coach at Toledo, an assistant handed him a tape of a high school quarterback. Pinkel popped it into his VCR and immediately thought: There's no way we can get this guy. He's got Michael Vick ability.
Nonetheless, Pinkel made a call to the star of the film, Brad Smith, then a junior at Chaney High in Youngstown, Ohio. Because of his size (6 feet, 170 pounds) Smith wasn't being heavily recruited by big schools. But Pinkel was intrigued by Smith's blend of running and passing, and after he was hired by Missouri in November 2000, he asked Smith to come be a cornerstone in the rebuilding of the program. "I've coached six quarterbacks who went to the NFL, and Brad has more ability than all of them," Pinkel says. "I'm glad he's on our side."
As a redshirt freshman in 2002, Smith became the second player in history to pass for more than 2,000 yards and rush for more than 1,000 in the same season. (Woody Dantzler of Clemson did it in 2001.) Last year Pinkel and Smith led Missouri to an 8-5 record and its first bowl game since '98, with Smith passing for 1,977 yards and 11 TDs and rushing for 1,406 yards and 18 scores. Of the 13 returning starters, no one is more important than Smith.
"Coach Pinkel had a plan for turning Missouri around, and I wanted to be part of it," says Smith. "Now our goal is to win the Big 12 North, win the conference title game and play for the national championship."
Now 6'2" and a sturdy 210 pounds, Smith worked in the off-season to improve his long-range accuracy. Though he completed 60.3% of his passes last year, most of those were thrown underneath the coverage; Smith averaged just 5.65 yards per attempt (95th in the nation), which often made third-and-five a struggle for the Tigers. This year Pinkel will have Smith throw more posts and deep routes. "You can tell Brad's arm has gotten stronger and he's more confident throwing the ball," says senior linebacker and co-captain James Kinney. "He's been almost impossible to defend in our seven-on-seven drills."
The Tigers haven't won an outright conference title since 1960. If they're going to break that drought, Smith will have to be just as hard to stop during the season.
-- Lars Anderson