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‚Äôs no way we can get this guy. He‚Äôs 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‚Äôt being heavily recruited by big schools. But Pinkel was intrigued by Smith‚Äôs 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. ‚ÄúI‚Äôve coached six quarterbacks who went to the NFL, and Brad has more ability than all of them,‚Äù Pinkel says. ‚ÄúI‚Äôm glad he‚Äôs on our side.‚Äù
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‚Äì5 record and its first bowl game since ‚Äô98, 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.
‚ÄúCoach Pinkel had a plan for turning Missouri around, and I wanted to be part of it,‚Äù says Smith. ‚ÄúNow our goal is to win the Big 12 North, win the conference title game and play for the national championship.‚Äù
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. ‚ÄúYou can tell Brad‚Äôs arm has gotten stronger and he‚Äôs more confident throwing the ball,‚Äù says senior linebacker and co-captain James Kinney. ‚ÄúHe‚Äôs been almost impossible to defend in our seven-on-seven drills.‚Äù
The Tigers haven‚Äôt won an outright conference title since 1960. If they‚Äôre going to break that drought, Smith will have to be just as hard to stop during the season. --L.A.
2003 RECORD 8‚Äì5 (4‚Äì4, 3rd in Big 12 North)
FINAL AP RANK NR
RETURNING STARTERS 13
KEY RETURNEES (2003 stats)
QB Brad Smith (Jr.)
13 interceptions in 716 career passes
LB James Kinney (Sr.)
94 tackles shy of Mizzou career mark (415)
S Nino Williams (Sr.)
Junior college transfer made 105 tackles
DB Shirdonya Mitchell (Sr.)
Clocked at 4.28 in the 40, fastest on team
DE Xzavie Jackson (Soph.)
Tigers‚Äô top freshman had 34 tackles
Turnovers per game committed by Missouri last season, best in the nation. The Tigers‚Äô per-game margin, +.85, was tied for 10th.
As a freshman David Richard led Michigan State in rushing, with 654 yards. Forced to sit out ‚Äô03 after transferring to Missouri, the 6'2", 235-pound sophomore will play outside linebacker this fall. Richard proved a quick study in the spring and should complement AllAmerica candidate James Kinney in the middle.
Sept. 4 ARKANSAS STATE
9 at Troy State
18 BALL STATE
Oct. 2 COLORADO
9 at Baylor
16 at Texas
23 OKLAHOMA STATE
30 at Nebraska
Nov. 6 KANSAS STATE
27 at Iowa State