COLUMBIA — Despite the times, Missouri is expecting an official sellout of Faurot Field this weekend — 11,700 fans in attendance — for Saturday night's football season opener against No. 2 Alabama.
So much has been different off the field this season, even Southeastern Conference athletic directors like Missouri's Jim Sterk weren't sure the sport of college football would get to this point.
The Tigers and Crimson Tide are scheduled to kick off at 6 p.m. Saturday on ESPN.
Sterk told media Thursday in a Zoom call, "We could sell a heck of a lot more" than 11,700 tickets, but that number is about 19 percent of Faurot Field's 62,000 capacity.
Each visiting fanbase is allotted 500 tickets per SEC policy, and the stadium will be divided into 11 zones with each ticket specifying a designated entry and exit gate. No tailgating will be permitted on university property, and fans in attendance will be asked to wear masks at all times when not eating or drinking. Parking lots open three hours before kickoff, and Sterk said certain measures, like half-price on certain concessions, would be used to encourage fans to get into their seats early.
Missouri's coaches gave every indication Saturday's game would be played, but the Tigers may be brushing up against some of the SEC's roster requirements to start the game at kickoff.
Two more players opted out Wednesday: wide receiver Cjay Boone and offensive lineman Jack Buford, bringing the team's total opt-outs to five, following defensive lineman Chris Daniels, wideout Maurice Massey and offensive lineman Thalen Robinson.
Along with a few medical retirements in the offseason, Missouri is at approximately 76 scholarship players, 23 more than the SEC's minimum of 53. With seven players as of Tuesday missing the game because of coronavirus quarantine policy, the Tigers are expected to dress 69 scholarship players against Alabama.
The thinnest positions appear to be offensive line and long snapper. Missouri's struggles with the left side of the offensive line have been documented, but coach Eli Drinkwitz said Wednesday on the SEC teleconference there were also "availability questions" at snapper.
Missouri's placekicker, Harrison Mevis, is a true freshman, and punter Grant McKinniss transferred in from Kentucky during the offseason. The two snappers on the roster are Jake Hoffman and Drew Wise.
"Well, I can tell you this, we have more specialists here than I've ever had, anywhere else I've ever been, and thank the Lord for that," special teams coordinator Erik Link said Wednesday. "Yeah, we have emergency plans at every position, just like, you know, multiple other positions on the team. But we may be short a little bit in that area, but we certainly have a couple guys that have been doing for a long time."
It could be an issue if Missouri is kicking a lot — either because the Tigers are scoring a lot, or punting a lot — but the offensive line is the more pressing issue, if for no other reason than because quarterbacks Shawn Robinson and Connor Bazelak need to be protected. The Crimson Tide have been churning out defensive line talent for 15 years now, and this year's team is no different.
Missouri will have to find a way to stop LaBryan Ray, Big Kat Bryant, DJ Dale and potentially Christian Barmore, if the sophomore's knee is fully healthy. Big Kat was injured in 2019, but the other three combined for four sacks and 10 tackles for loss on a crowded defensive front a year ago.