Will the Missouri Tigers return to the postseason in 2013?
There are plenty of reasons to believe so. Sure, Mizzou limped to a 5-7 record in its first season in the SEC, but it could have easily finished 8-4 with a couple of breaks. With 12 starters returning and improved quarterback play, Gary Pinkel has to feel good about his team’s chances of making a bowl this season—as long as it stays healthy.
A closer look at the Tigers’ schedule will show why there’s so much optimism in Columbia.
Missouri’s non-conference slate guarantees a fast start to the season. The Murray State Racers, Toledo Rockets and Arkansas State Red Wolves simply don’t have the manpower to slow down the Tigers’ explosive offense, which averaged 34 points per game in non-conference play last year.
That leaves a road trip against the Indiana Hoosiers as the only potential landmine in non-SEC play. While IU’s offense has improved tremendously under Kevin Wilson, its defense ranked 107th against the run a year ago. With a healthy Henry Josey (1,164 yards in 2011), Missouri will have no trouble moving the chains against a porous Hoosier defense that allowed over five yards per carry in each of the last two seasons.
Unfortunately, the first half of the conference schedule does not set up quite as nicely. While there’s no such thing as an easy game in the SEC, the Tigers’ opening four games are especially tough. In that span, Mizzou faces the Vanderbilt Commodores, Georgia Bulldogs, Florida Gators and South Carolina Gamecocks, all of whom won nine games or more last season. The best that the Tigers could hope for is a split—which is not exactly a stretch since they had their chances to beat the Commodores and Gators a year ago before turnovers and miscues did them in.
Regardless of what happens throughout this brutal four-game stretch, the latter half of the SEC schedule will determine whether Missouri qualifies for a bowl game or stays home for the second straight year. The Tigers finish the season with winnable contests against the Tennessee Volunteers, Kentucky Wildcats and Ole Miss Rebels before concluding the docket at home against the Texas A&M Aggies. Mizzou should win at least two of these contests since it beat the Vols and ‘Cats last season, and it has an extra week to prepare (and get injured players healthy) for its trip to Oxford.
The bottom line: as long as Missouri remains healthy, it will go to bowl this season. If everything goes perfectly, the Tigers could actually end up doubling their win total this season.