1. It's been an...um...eventful last six months or the Mizzou program. What was the vibe around the program this spring?
I think it's been similar to most programs during the spring, tempered optimism. There are still a lot of fresh scars but some of that was allayed by the new staff. That isn't to say Gary Pinkel was forced out (he's actually moved into an administrative role with the university). However, his cancer combined with the disappointing season and the protests guaranteed a regime change. It just happened to coincide with one of the biggest news stories in the country and massive upheaval to university administration for a variety of complex reasons.
Fans are looking at new head coach Barry Odom and the remade staff to rebound from what still should have been a bowl season. There aren't many rational fans who think Missouri can make another trip to Atlanta this year, but a respectable record is expected - and frankly might be necessary. Personally, I think the team should be able to reach seven wins if there are no major injuries and possibly could hit eight if they surprise someone.
2. Just 13 starters back, new head coach...fair to say this is most likely a rebuilding year for the Tigers?
As I said above, I think most fans would be happy with a rebuilding year. Nine of Missouri's returning starters come on the defensive side of the ball. Missouri lost five senior offensive lineman, and even though two of them may be drafted, the failures of the offense were fundamentally due to an inability to block for either the run or the pass. After the departure of three lineman since January, there are zero seniors and only three junior lineman with one, Nate Crawford, being held out of the spring after undergoing back surgery for the second time in a year. We're over here hoping that offensive line experience doesn't mean as much as many suggest.
3. Any surprises in spring practice?
For me the biggest surprise was the youth on the defensive side of the ball pushing the incumbent starters. At linebacker and in the secondary there have been a few players who've challenged more experienced upperclassmen which is a shift from what I've been used to under Gary Pinkel. At least so far it seems former defensive coordinator turned head coach Barry Odom wants to push to get the best players on the field no matter what. A various times during the spring sophomores were taking starting reps over juniors and seniors we thought had secured their position. This from a defense that was ranked 13th/5th by Bill Connelly's fancy nerd math and only lost one major contributor (albeit the nation's leading tackler in Kentrell Brothers).
4. Any concerns or disappointments?
My chief concern is that the defense regresses more than the offense progresses. Last year the Missouri Tigers were one half of an amazing team: elite defense, horrific offense. The offense lost five senior lineman and quarterback Maty Mauk who had plenty of troubles on and off the field but gave that team a fighting chance. Sophomore Drew Lock is going to be a good quarterback if he has time to throw and guys who can catch but both of those things remain to be seen. Beyond Lock's natural arm talent, I didn't see anything that wowed me in the spring. It worries me that we play you on the road with such an inexperienced offense.
5. What's the perception of this matchup, and LSU and Mizzou squaring off for the first time as conference mates? Fans excited for the trip to Death Valley?
I think fans are incredibly excited for the opportunity to visit Baton Rouge and see Death Valley up close. LSU games resemble what I imagine the ideal college football games to be and the opportunity to play y'all and see if we're up to the test is an exciting proposition. I don't think fans see this as a very winnable game although we'll trust our defense against almost anyone. Maybe this isn't the right year for us to come out on top, but hot damn am I excited to try. I hope y'all wear your purple uniforms.