The Tigers and Jackrabbits kick off on ESPNU at 2:30 p.m. CT this Saturday.
It's a new season, and, in turn, this is a new Anthrascience. The Rock M Scientists done changed the game on y'all, because we never want to become complacent. We're striving for scientific greatness each and every day. Last year, we highlighted a few keys to the upcoming game through a convoluted math equation. It did the job of predicting outcomes, but it didn't live up to promises made. This year, NO MATH.
That's right, we got rid of those nasty numbers. Frankly, they're big and scary and we didn't really understand them in the first place. In their place, we're instituting a whole new gig: The Scientific Method. Every week, we will propose a hypothesis, and then allow the game (read: experiment) to answer our question. Sounds super dope, right? We think so too, so let's get started!
The Tigers will square off against the Jackrabbits of South Dakota State on Saturday. The Jacks are an FCS team. A good FCS team, but an FCS team nonetheless. This fact leads us to this week's question:
Are the Jackrabbits even good enough to make this game interesting, and if so: for how long?
Zenner was a consensus All-American in each of the past two seasons. He needs on 218 yards to pass former Western Illinois running back Herb Donaldson as the MVFC's career rushing leader. He already holds the MVFC's career record for all-purpose yards with 5,861.
With another 2,000-yard rushing season, Zenner would push to become the new FCS career rushing leader. Adrian Peterson -- the one who later played for the Chicago Bears, not the Minnesota Vikings' Peterson -- tops the FCS leaderboard with 6,559 rushing yards compiled from 1998-2001 at Georgia Southern.
SDSU's offense shouldn't be purely the Zenner show. The Jackrabbits' other returning starters include senior quarterback Austin Sumner and senior wide receiver Jason Schneider. They have FBS size, with both standing 6-5 and weighing 235 pounds and 225, respectively.
Sumner started under center the past three seasons, and he's six touchdown passes shy of tying SDSU's career record. He already holds the school records in career passing yards (7,824), completions (631) and attempts (1,085).
SDSU will head to Faurot Field with what may end up being the best set of skill position players the program has ever had. On every play, the best quarterback in Jackrabbit history will have the option of throwing to an NFL-sized receiver, or handing off to potentially the most prolific FCS running back EVER. Don't fool yourselves into thinking that Zenner has piled up those yards against inferior competition either. This was his stat-line against Nebraska last year:
Say what you will about the Cornhuskers, putting those numbers up against their defense is no walk in the park. The problem this year is that Zenner's offensive line is greener than Faurot's steaming hot turf.
If the Jackrabbits have an offensive question mark, it comes on the line. They were set to return two starters, but sophomore Mike Shoff will miss the season with a knee injury. That leaves 6-5, 315-pound senior tackle Trevor Greger as the only returning starter up front. He has 30 career starts, including all 27 games the past two seasons.
That's, uh, not ideal.
SPOILER ALERT: If you don't want to know how Mizzou's defense will look against SDSU, STOP READING.
Defensive Coordinator Dave Steckel is going to stuff the box like it's a Thanksgiving turkey. Do you dig four-man fronts with a safety rotating down to help stop the run? Well you're in luck, this game will be a blast for you. It wouldn't be surprising at all to see Steckel make the – relatively safe – gamble that the talent gap between Mizzou's secondary and SDSU's pass-catchers is big enough to play man-coverage for the majority of the game. Or at least until Mizzou's offense extends the lead to the point where passing becomes a necessity.
Speaking of scoring points, the Tigers should be able to do that a whole bunch.
Defense kept the Jackrabbits from being an elite FCS team a year ago. They allowed 382.1 yards per game, which ranked ninth in the MVFC and 58th in FCS. (The MVFC is a strong defensive league, with five teams ranking in the top 30 for total defense last season.) Opponents gained 5.69 yards per play against the Jackrabbits. They were one of only three MVFC teams to allow at least 5.35 yards per play.
SDSU returns only one starter on the defensive line and, because of Elmore's injury, one in the linebacking corps.
Run, run, run, run, run, play-action pass, run, run, run, draw, run. Multiply that by 17 and you've got yourself Missouri's offensive game-plan. The offensive line and running backs are the two biggest strengths of the offense, and they should dominate the inexperienced Jackrabbits.
SDSU is certainly a good team. One that should challenge the best of the best in the FCS. Luckily, Missouri does not play in the FCS, which LEADS US TO OUR HYPOTHESIS:
South Dakota State's combination of a few very talented players and a lack of experience should ensure that this game stays interesting for a total of 1.5 quarters.
There you have it. Next week, we'll examine just how right we were.