1. I don’t want to get on a soapbox, but …

There are two ways to deal with the unruly beast that is name, image and likeness: complain or connect.

Eliah Drinkwitz, everyone, has decided to dance with the Boogeyman.

“We say it’s important for these guys to play (in Columbia), and the opportunity they’re going to have,” Drinkwitz said when announcing his 2022 recruiting class.

A class that is better than any other in the history of Missouri football.

A class built on the foundation of the current coach and his 11-11 record in 2 seasons. That, and NIL cash for everyone.

Or as Drinkwitz so eloquently put it, “opportunity” for everyone.

As long as those in the Mizzou community give and give again.

“As a fan base, as business leaders, as supporters, we have to come through with those things,” Drinkwitz said, and there was little doubt he was preaching to the Mizzou masses to reach deep into their hearts and wallets. “And make sure that these players know that playing at home is going to provide them with significant business benefits for their future in the game of football and outside of it.”

You say distasteful, I say deliberate.

You say embarrassing, I say engaging.

When it was clear NIL had a place in college sports, the biggest complaint – outside of the old school grabbing onto the old ways like grim death – was the rich get richer.

If Alabama and Georgia and LSU and Florida can get elite recruits without paying players (insert your joke here), what happens when they can begin giving NIL opportunities to the best players in high school football and the best players in college looking to transfer?

Well, Drinkwitz isn’t waiting for what happens.

He’s not complaining like some coaches (hello, Dabo), or bemoaning the new world but still trying to play the game like many others. He’s doing what most every coach typically does when given the outline or the rules: hard-charging down the road, searching for the smartest, quickest way to make it happen.

In that sense, Drinkwitz is reaching out to the Missouri community. It’s time for those same fans and boosters who fill all the stadiums and ballfields on the Columbia campus to watch Tigers sports, who get in the ear of the administration when a particular sport or coach isn’t necessarily working as they believe it should, to put up or shut up and invest.

And by invest, he means provide opportunity for current and incoming players to make money off their name, image and likeness. You want the elite of high school sports?

It’s going to take more than love of dear ol’ Mizzou.

Drinkwitz didn’t make the rules, but he isn’t going to sit around and hope something happens. He’s going to make it happen.

“Adapt or die,” he says.

So here he is, in the middle of the biggest, baddest conference in college football — when most everyone in the SEC has had a 100-year head start on Missouri – searching for a way to chase and catch and become relevant.

Gary Pinkel did it for a couple of years, and since then, Missouri may as well be Vanderbilt. Because if you ain’t winning in the SEC, you’re losing.

The next thing you know, the NCAA gives you a gift – a genuine get out of jail free card. It’s called the NIL rule, and the NCAA doesn’t know what in the world it’s doing or how to regulate it (because they can’t; it’s illegal to do so), and they’ve thrown open the gates.

They’ve given Drinkwitz and every other coach at every other school that has complained year after year about the growing divide between the haves and have-nots, a chance to quickly gain ground on the Alabamas and Georgias of the college football world.

Frankly, it’s coaching malpractice for Drinkwitz to not stand at the dais on the first day of the Early Signing Period and declare, without hesitation, that if you want a winner at Missouri, he needs help from the community.

You want to be part of future college football Playoffs? We’re all in this together.

“This is just a start,” Drinkwitz said. ‘We’ve got to go wherever we can to find great players.”

2. The common denominator

It has always been about players and how to procure a roster greater than any other.

Players win games.

Coaches that now make upward of $12 million a year want you to think that coaching is everything. They don’t want you to forget that they’re game-planning and motivating and calling the shots.

The players are just there on the field playing the game.

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Those same players that are the difference between winning and losing, between explosion plays and 2-yard losses. Between preparing for the Playoff, or the latest iteration of a bowl game that’s a mere amuse-bouche to the feed everyone is desperately trying to inhale.

And now the governing body of college athletics that used to sanction member institutions for providing recruits a bagel for breakfast, has wheeled out a 12-course meal available for all to eat.

You just have to figure out how to pay for it.

Understand this: Missouri’s top 15 class was built on the work of Drinkwitz and his staff. He’s a charismatic and dynamic coach. Young players connect with him.

But 11-11 only sells so much, and he knows it. Missouri also has to win games of significance to gain more traction in player procurement. Missouri will win games of significance when it has better players.

See the Catch-22?

That’s why Drinkwitz stood at the dais and preached about opportunity, and how it could get more players like Luther Burden, the nation’s No. 1 wideout and No. 3 overall recruit according to the 247Sports composite. Burden chose Missouri over Alabama, Georgia and Oklahoma.

Those other 3 universities have combined for 13 Playoff appearances. Two of them are in this field together — again. The only thing Missouri had in its recruitment of Burden was Drinkwitz and geography: Burden’s hometown of East St. Louis, Ill., is just over the Mississippi River from the state of Missouri, and about 3 hours from Columbia — on a good day on I-70.

There are elite players in the St. Louis area, in the state of Missouri. Most have left over the years for more successful programs.

Ezekiel Elliott. Montee Ball. Josh Freeman. And on and on and on.

Jameson Williams, the best receiver in the nation, is from St. Louis. He left for Ohio State, and then transferred to Alabama.

That can’t happen, and Drinkwitz is trying to harness the power of the NIL to make sure it doesn’t.

Because dancing with the Boogeyman is better than the alternative of not dancing at all.

3. Staying home

The biggest recruit for new LSU coach Brian Kelly wasn’t 5-star QB Walker Howard, or 5-star OT Will Campbell.

Kelly convinced Myles Brennan, the forgotten one-time quarterback of the future at LSU, to leave the transfer portal and return to Baton Rouge for his final season.

Five years of injury and frustration, of disappointment and anger and every possible emotion. And Brennan isn’t giving up, using his 6th season of eligibility to connect with a coach who has a history of developing quarterbacks – immediately.

— In Dan LeFevour’s first season at Central Michigan with Kelly, he threw for 3,031 yards and 26 TDs.

— Ben Mauk played 3 seasons at Wake Forest and had 4 TDs and 10 INTs. In one season under Kelly at Cincinnati, he threw for 31 TDs and 9 INTs.

— In Kelly’s first season at Notre Dame, he used two quarterbacks (Dayne Crist, Tommy Rees) who combined to throw for more than 3,000 yards and 27 TDs.

Brennan began his career at LSU in 2017 as heralded 4-star recruit. He looked overwhelmed (and weighed only 180 pounds) at times in the scant opportunities he was given. That led to coach Ed Orgeron to recruit over him, landing transfer Joe Burrow from Ohio State.

Brennan was Burrow’s backup for 2 seasons and then got his shot in 2020, throwing for 1,112 yards and 11 TDs in 3 games before a core injury ended his season. A left (non-throwing) arm injury prior to fall camp then ended his 2021 season, when he was the favorite to win the starting job ahead of Max Johnson.

By the first week of November, with LSU’s season in turmoil and Orgeron days from being fired, Brennan announced he was entering the transfer portal for his super senior season. Now he’ll compete with Garrett Nussmeier and Howard for the starting job.

4. Playing big vs. the elite

The most intriguing battle in the Cotton Bowl CFP semifinal: Georgia OT Jamaree Salyer vs. Michigan All-American DE Aidan Hutchinson.

If the SEC Championship Game is any indication, Georgia might have the advantage with Salyer. That, more than anything, is a significant surprise.

Salyer had missed the previous 4 games (foot injury) before the loss to Alabama in the championship game. While he is Georgia’s best NFL prospect on the offensive line, he has been far from an anchor at the most important position.

In fact, redshirt freshman Broderick Jones played well in the 4 games he replaced Salyer and was pressing for more time. Then Salyer went out and played his best game of the season against Alabama All-American DE Will Anderson.

“Really impressed by how light and quick he played on his feet,” an NFL scout told me. “He’s going against a guy (Anderson) that would get double-digit sacks in our league right now. He has strong hands, and a lower center of power to use those hands. If he plays well against Hutchinson, that’s back-to-back strong games against guys who will be picked in the top 5 of the next two drafts.”

5. The Weekly Five

There’s no one left in the offensive analyst pipeline at Alabama. If OC/QBs coach Bill O’Brien leaves after the 2021 season for an NFL job, 5 potential replacements:

1. Dan Mullen, former Florida coach. A no-brainer. SEC experience, proven offensive mind and quarterback developer.

2. David Cutcliffe, former Duke coach: Yes, Cut has retired. But would he really turn down an opportunity to win on the big stage at Alabama?

3. Nick Rolovich, former Washington State coach: Imagine Rolovich taking the current Alabama system, and adding principles of the June Jones Run and Shoot. Fascinating (ask Auburn about those vaccine mandates).

4. Warren Ruggiero, Wake Forest OC: Architect of an RPO-based offense that has put up huge numbers, Ruggiero has turned down multiple offers at more high-profile OC jobs.

5. Phil Longo, North Carolina OC: Has coached and recruited in the SEC (Ole Miss), and developed Sam Howell and the explosive UNC offense for the past 3 seasons.

6. Your tape is your résumé

An NFL scout breaks down a draft-eligible SEC player. This week: Kentucky OT Darian Kinnard.

“I absolutely love him. He can be an All-Pro at either guard or tackle. The way he can use his hands, his strong base, and his ability to punish guys and extend, he’s going to play outside. He’s just one of those guys that mauls you. A tough guy. And he’s an athlete. I don’t want you to think he’s just this big strong guy. He can move, he has great bend and knows how to leverage. You watch him on tape, and he punishes. He enjoys what he’s doing, and runs to the next play, wanting more. I love offensive linemen like that.”

7. Powered Up

This week’s Power Poll, and one big thing: biggest loss to replace in 2022.

1. Alabama: WRs Jameson Williams and John Metchie III. Have you seen the young receivers on the roster? Iffy.

2. Georgia: The core foundation of the best defense in CFB the past 2 seasons: LBs Nakobe Dean and Nolan Smith, DT Jordan Davis, DE Adam Anderson.

3. Ole Miss: In the past 2 seasons, Ole Miss ran 1,726 plays. QB Matt Corral threw or ran the ball on 953 plays and accounted for 64 touchdowns.

4. Arkansas: WR Treylon Burkes: 66 catches, 11 TD. The other 4 Hogs WRs: 70 catches, 5 TD.

5. Texas A&M: DC Mike Elko. Aggies defense has been way underrated the past 2 seasons, when Fisher developed a team that could beat anyone.

6. Mississippi State: OT Charles Cross will be a top 10 pick in the NFL Draft, and was a stud protecting the blindside of star QB Will Rogers.

7. Kentucky: Three of 5 starters on an offensive line that has fueled the Wildcats’ rise.

8. Tennessee: G Cade Mays. A terrific player, but a better teammate and leader coach Josh Heupel needs for 2022.

9. Auburn: A lockdown CB (Roger McCreary) and a hard-hitting safety (Smoke Monday), and an overall presence in the secondary.

10. LSU: CB Derek Stingley Jr. To be fair, Stingley hasn’t been the same since his freshman season, but neither has the LSU secondary.

11. Missouri: The offense revolved around TB Tyler Badie, whose explosiveness and availability (he played injured) was wildly undervalued the past 2 seasons.

12. South Carolina: Gamecocks don’t have a force off the edge and a player offenses have to game plan around like DE Kingsley Enagbare.

13. Florida: CB Kaiir Elam was caught up in the subpar play by the defense, and his lockdown ability was lost in the mire of mediocrity.

14. Vanderbilt: CB Allan George was good enough to earn All-SEC honors. He didn’t. The Vandy secondary will take a significant coverage hit in 2022.

8. Ask and you shall receive

Matt: What’s the most important thing Billy Napier needs to fix to get the Gators competing for the SEC Championship again? — Tracy Yavos, Chicago.

Tracy:

It’s the quarterback position. Other than the 2 seasons with Kyle Trask, the position has been full of poor or uneven play, drama and/or poor coaching since Tim Tebow graduated in 2009.

This will all be on Napier, who will call plays and coach the quarterbacks. He will be the reason if uber-talented but oft-injured Anthony Richardson develops.

Emory Jones said he will enter the transfer portal after the bowl game, and that leaves the Gators with 3 options at the position: Richardson (see: injury history), and freshmen Carlos Del Rio-Wilson and Jalen Kitna.

Don’t be surprised if Napier adds a quarterback from the transfer portal, probably one with starter experience. Because of Richardson’s history of injuries, Napier can’t go into the 2022 season with two untested quarterbacks behind Richardson.

9. Numbers

168.3 Cincinnati, Alabama’s opponent in the Cotton Bowl CFP semifinal, is No. 2 in the nation in pass defense, giving up just 168.3 yards per game – with a TD/INT ratio of 10/18 and opposing quarterbacks completing just 53% of their passes.

Houston was the best pass offense Cincinnati faced all season, and the Bearcats gave up 250 yards and 2 TDs (1 INT) to QB Clayton Tune.

10. Quote to note

Texas A&M coach Jimbo Fisher: “You live in vision, or you live in circumstance. We’re living in vision. We see it, and I think it’s right there. Now we just have to finish it.”