Missouri State, under new coach Bobby Petrino, was originally scheduled to open its football season Sept. 5 at perennial power Oklahoma. Then the game was moved to Aug. 29. Now, it’s … to be determined.
With the coronavirus pandemic wreaking havoc on both teams’ schedules, the best guess is that the game will now return to its original date or be played one week later, on Sept. 12.
The Missouri Valley Football Conference, of which Missouri State is a part, announced Aug. 7 that it will play its conference games in the spring of 2021, while leaving non-conference games “at institutional discretion.” Missouri State athletic director Kyle Moats told reporters that same day that he wants to see the game against the Sooners played, “whenever that is.” Doing so would ensure a much-needed $600,000 payout to his school.
The Big 12 conference, of which Oklahoma is a part, had announced on Aug. 3 that each school would play nine league games and a single non-conference game. At present the first game on the Sooners’ schedule is against Baylor on Oct. 3 in Norman, Okla. Their other two non-conference games, a home matchup on Sept. 12 against Tennessee and a visit to Army on Sept. 26, have been cancelled.
The Missouri State-Oklahoma matchup had been moved up a week, from Sept. 5 to Aug. 29, when the NCAA granted the schools a waiver to give them more flexibility in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Meantime, Petrino’s new team hit the practice field for the first time on Aug. 1. Denied spring drills because of the pandemic, the Bears are looking to turn things around after going 1-10 in 2019 under the previous coach, Dave Steckel. They have not had a winning season since 2009.
Enter Petrino, who is approaching his 37th year in coaching and his 16th as a head man. He holds a 119-56 collegiate record in a career that includes previous stops at the University of Louisville (2003-06 and 2014-18), the University of Arkansas (2008-11) and Western Kentucky (2013). His teams have finished in the Top 25 seven times, including Top 10 showings at Louisville in 2004 and 2006 and at Arkansas in 2011, and have appeared in 11 bowl games, winning five.
The Springfield News-Leader reported Aug. 1 that a player contracted the virus during a team gathering in July, and Petrino told that publication that “six or seven guys quarantined from there.”
“We’ve learned from that,” he added. “Most of them are back now, but there is a lot of learning and it changes all the time.”
As for on-field matters, Petrino told the News-Leader that he is going to use 10 days of preseason drills to install his offense, a process that usually takes place over a longer period of time in spring practice. He said he doesn’t want to overburden his players, hoping instead to zero in on what they do well so that they can play fast and loose.
It is expected that Southern Mississippi transfer Jaden Johnson will emerge as the Bears’ starting quarterback, and while Petrino has yet to make a decision in that regard, wide receiver Damoriea Vick told the News-Leader that Johnson has been “stepping up and trying to take control of everything.”