Five Saturdays from now, Missouri will open year two of the Barry Odom era against one of his professional mentors.
Dave Steckel served as the Tigers’ defensive coordinator from 2009-14 on former coach Gary Pinkel’s staff.
Before that, Steckel spent eight seasons as Mizzou’s linebackers coach, while Odom worked in various capacities on Pinkel’s staff from 2003-11.
After three seasons at Memphis as defensive coordinator, Odom returned to Columbia in 2015 as Steckel’s successor after he left to become the head coach at Missouri State.
When Pinkel retired, Odom was elevated to the Tigers’ top job.
Now, Odom and Steckel lead their programs against each other in the season opener Sept. 2 at Memorial Stadium.
“Coach Stec” as he was affectionately known during a 14-year tenure at MU expects to get booed during his return to Faurot Field, where he’s curious to see how tattered the opposing locker room is after hearing rumors.
Here’s more about the Bears from Springfield, Mo., and expectations for 2017 opener against:
Date/location: Sept. 2 at Memorial Stadium in Columbia
Kickoff time (TV): 11 a.m. (SEC Network)
2016 season: 4-7 (2-6 Missouri Valley)
Head coach: Dave Steckel, second season at Missouri State and overall (5-17)
All-time series: Missouri leads 1-0
Last meeting: Missouri won 10-0 (Oct. 6, 1923, in Columbia)
Top returning players: WR Malik Earl, DE Colby Isbell, WR/KR Deion Holliman, LB McNeece Egbim
Key departures: LB Dylan Cole, QB Brodie Lambert, OL Riley Shantz, WR Zac Hoover
1. From a fan/media perspective how have the first two years of former Mizzou defensive coordinator Dave Steckel’s rebuilding effort gone in Springfield?
I’m not sure anyone was ready for a 1-10 season in his first year, but year two of the rebuild went the way you should expect. They showed improvements on both sides of the ball.
There was a little more trust in the offense as the playbook opened up. There were more throws down the field and they were able to put more points on the board.
As of a result of that, the defense was kept off the field too. They went from allowing 48.6 points per game in 2015 to allowing 35.7 points per game in 2016.
Fans are content. Steckel has established a culture in the community and the locker room. Fans will now expect the ‘Bear Up’ culture to turn into a winning culture.
2. During Steckel’s first two seasons, the Bears went from 1-10 to 4-7, but what are the expectations around town for 2017?
The community expects this team to compete in the FCS. They’ve bought into junior college transfer quarterback Peyton Huslig and his big arm.
Huslig led Garden City Community College to an undefeated, national championship winning year. They were excited to see him throw the ball down the field during the spring game which saw him go 19 for 33 for 345 yards and a touchdown.
As excited as the fans are for that, they’re still realistic when they look at the schedule. Starting out against Mizzou and then traveling to North Dakota won’t be easy. They should get a win week three against Murray State, but then they’re thrown right back into Illinois State and then North Dakota State.
They could show signs of improvement, but still end up with an equal or worse record than 2016 (4-7). Fans expect better, but better could just be being more competitive in games with the top teams in the Missouri Valley Football Conference. Middle of the MVFC pack should be a reasonable expectation for the Bears this season.
3. After finishing dead last in FCS in total defense two years ago, Missouri State improved by more than 100 yards and inched toward respectability. Was that a sign of real progress that provides hope that trend will continue?
Steckel has always shown signs at Missouri State that he’s capable of having guys in the right spot on defense. The defense just didn’t make the tackles in his first year, but they were better in the second.
All-American linebacker Dylan Cole (now with the Houston Texans) was still making most of the plays, but it felt like he had a little more help.
Defensive end Colby Isbell has improved every year he’s been at Missouri State. He’s a preseason MVFC first teamer. He’s shown to be a problem for tackles across the Valley.
McNeece Egbim had a promising redshirt-freshman year at linebacker. He should be one to take a chunk of Cole’s productivity.
The defense is well-coached. You could argue that the defense could take a step back without Cole this season, but as more Steckel recruited players make their way on the field, they should be playing better together as a unit.
4. Are there any Bears’ players who fit right in athletically in the SEC, the hidden gems bigger programs whiffed on recruiting?
Deion Holliman would do well on a FBS team. He’s smaller, but he’s extremely quick and is a threat to score every time he touches the ball.
Malik Earl is also a receiver who could have played at a higher level. He has decent speed and controls his body well as he high-points the ball.
We haven’t seen transfer tight end Jordan Frazier on the field yet. He transferred from Oklahoma State, so that’s obviously someone who probably could have made it for a few higher-profile programs.
5. What chance, if any, do you give the Bears to pull an upset against Mizzou?
I’m not really giving them a chance. I think they have a lot of unknown going into the season and asking them to win in Columbia seems to be too much to ask for at this point.
They’ll go in with a starting quarterback who has never taken a snap to go along with a defense who lost its leader to the NFL. I don’t think the Tigers will allow the Bears to come in and upset them on opening day.