With less than a month until the 2012 College Football season kicks off, the Rant Sports 100 in 100 College Football Preview series continues with our No.28 team, the Missouri Tigers.
After finishing 8-5 in the Big 12 last year, the Tigers and coach Gary Pinkel will move to the SEC this season, where they will face much stiffer competition. Though it may take time to become acclimated to their new conference, Mizzou returns 10 starters that should lessen the transition period.
To succeed in the Southeastern Conference, one needs a physical defense and a solid quarterback. Missouri has the quarterback part covered in junior James Franklin. Despite never playing in the SEC, Franklin becomes one of the conference’s top signal-callers after throwing for 2,865 yards and rushing for 981 yards for a total of 36 touchdowns. He is the key to the Tigers’ spread offense and is a true dual-threat quarterback, which will give opposing defenses a fit. There was question whether Franklin would be ready to suit up for the Missouri Tigers after sustaining a shoulder injury in the spring but Pinkel recently declared his quarterback ready to go.
Despite losing last year’s leading rusher, Henry Josey, to injury, Mizzou’s backfield is in great hands. James Franklin will add depth to the team’s running attack but senior Kendial Lawrence will shoulder most of the load. Lawrence missed most of last season due to a fractured fibula but posted back-to-back 100 yard games to end the Tigers season. Sophomore Greg White, a 215 pound tailback, will also see some time and will look to be the bruiser Missouri needs in the SEC.
At wide receiver, the Missouri Tigers return last year’s leading receiver, senior T.J. Moe. Franklin’s favorite target led the team in both receptions (54) and yards (649) and is a good bet to improve on last year’s numbers. The Tigers received the commitment of the No.1 prospect in the 2012 class in wide receiver Dorial Green-Beckham, who will make an immediate impact. Green-Beckham, considered a freak athlete, will be a starting receiver before long and will be a threat to opposing defenses. Missouri lost standout tight end, Michael Egnew, to the NFL Draft last year and will try to replace his production with junior Eric Waters.
The strength of the Missouri Tigers defensive line hinges on the health of defensive lineman Brad Madison and Sheldon Richardson. Both athletes sustained injuries during spring practice and are rehabbing in hopes of making an early fall return. Madison, a dangerous threat to any quarterback, has notched 12 sacks the past two years and Richardson, once a highly recruited defensive tackle, will look to anchor the Tigers’ D-line. Shane Ray had an impressive season last year and can make some noise while his teammates are rehabbing.
At linebacker, Missouri is rather thin but will hope that an experienced linebacking corps can help solidify their defense. Senior Zavair Gooden, a three year starter, possesses the most experience out of the linebackers and will provide a much needed veteran presence. Andrew Wilson, last year’s leading tackler with 98 tackles, returns as the hard-hitting player Missouri will need in the SEC.
Perhaps the strongest unit of the Missouri Tigers defense is its secondary. Mizzou’s secondary contains seven players with starting experience and that experience will only help them in their move to the Southeastern Conference. Junior E.J. Gaines, a second-team All-Big 12 selection, is coming off a season with 16 pass breakups and will look to become an impact corner in the SEC.
Missouri boasts a lackluster non-conference schedule with games against SE Louisiana, UCF, Syracuse, and Arizona State. The matchup against ASU will probably be their toughest non-conference tilt. The Tigers will need to make the most out of their non-conference schedule to keep moral positive due to their tough SEC schedule. Georgia comes to town in the second week of the season to open SEC play, then two weeks later, they travel to face Steve Spurrier’s Gamecocks. Also on the Missouri Tigers schedule are last year’s national champions, the Alabama Crimson Tide, at home, and road games against Florida and Texas A&M.
The games with Alabama, Georgia, and South Carolina are the most challenging threats to Missouri’s goal of making noise in the SEC. With a healthy James Franklin and if Green-Beckham can make an immediate impact, the Tigers may find themselves in the upper half of the SEC East. However, if the defense can not play more physical than years prior, the Tigers may have to be content with a seven or eight win season.