"This year, defense has to win some games," senior linebacker Sean Weatherspoon said. "Last year, we had a lot of guys on offense who could change the game. This year, as a defensive unit, there is no room for error because we'll have tough times on offense just because we are replacing so many guys."
It's clearly a test for the Missouri program which is entering its ninth year under Pinkel. In Pinkel's first four years at Missouri, the Tigers went 22-25. During the next four seasons, Missouri was 37-16 including a 12-2 record in 2007.
It's easy to see why Pinkel is pleased with the progress he's made to this point.
"We've re-established the winning tradition at Missouri," he said.
But that progress could take step backward with a disappointing record this season, which makes this year the test of whether the Tigers have become a program that reloads or are a program that has to rebuild when its stars move on.
"We don't have the hype, we do have the talent," senior defensive tackle Jaron Baston said. "(But) nobody knows about it. If you lose six people then come back and win 10-plus games this season, (it will) show people Mizzou's still here, Mizzou's still stacked with talent. This could be one of the most special moments in Mizzou history."
Or it could be a forgettable moment, a signal there's still work to be done.