The Missouri Tigers check in at No. 58 in the Rant Sports’ Top 100 College Football Rankings, hoping for a turnaround after last year’s disappointing 5-7 season, their first in the Southeastern Conference.
The Tigers were hampered by injuries last season, making the task of competing in the nation’s toughest conference much more difficult. Head coach Gary Pinkel hopes that his team can stay healthy enough to compete during 2013.
The return of some key weapons could be key to this season for Mizzou. Pinkel would like to see how a full-strength Missouri team would fare in SEC play.
The major injuries last season were to a pair of offensive standouts who should be healthy for the 2013 season. Quarterback James Franklin took a beating, suffering several injuries that cost him three games and parts of a few others. He was a standout as a sophomore in 2011, but struggled through last season, passing for just 1,562 yards with 10 touchdowns and seven interceptions.
Franklin, who was a rushing threat two years ago, rushed for just 122 yards last season. He is the starter heading into the fall, but Corbin Berkstresser and Maty Mauk could push him in fall camp.
At running back, Henry Josey returns after missing all of last season with a knee injury. Josey rushed for 1,168 yards and nine touchdowns as a sophomore in 2011, and Pinkel hopes that he can provide similar production this season. Marcus Murphy, who is the Tigers’ primary kick returner, is also slated to see time at the running back position. Russell Hansbrough is also in the mix for playing time.
Missouri is expecting much more this season from wide receiver Dorial Green-Beckham, the nation’s top recruit two years ago. Last season, DGB struggled to learn the offense early, but caught on later in the season. Green-Beckham had 267 of his 395 yards receiving and four of his five touchdowns in his final five games. Senior Marcus Lucas should be a good compliment to Green-Beckham.
The Tigers also return four starters on the offensive line, led by center Evan Boehm.
Missouri returns six starters on defense, including three on the defensive line. Defensive ends Kony Ealy and Michael Sam are big-play guys, while defensive tackle Matt Hoch is solid in the middle. Lucas Vincent will attempt to fill the spot of departed standout Sheldon Richardson at the other tackle spot.
Linebacker Andrew Wilson has led Missouri in tackles the past two seasons, and he will need to be big again this season because the other two linebackers will be new to starting roles. Donovan Bonner did start two games last season, while Darvin Rouse will likely fill the other linebacker spot.
Perhaps the best player on the Mizzou defense is cornerback E.J. Gaines. Last season, Gaines was fourth on the team with 74 tackles. He had only one interception, but had 11 pass breakups and a pair of fumble recoveries. Braylon Webb returns at the free safety position after making 64 tackles last season. Randy Ponder and Matt White should fill the other two defensive back positions.
Missouri opens the season with four games that they probably should win. The Tigers host Murray State and Toledo to start before visiting the Indiana Hoosiers. After that game, Mizzou returns home to host Arkansas State.
Then, the schedule toughens quite a bit. Missouri visits the Vanderbilt Commodores and the Georgia Bulldogs before three straight home games against the Florida Gators, the South Carolina Gamecocks and the Tennessee Volunteers.
If Mizzou can win its four non-conference games, it must find a way to win two SEC games to make a bowl game. The Tigers will look at the games against Vanderbilt, Tennessee, Kentucky and Ole Miss as their best chances for wins. However, as Missouri found out last season, there are no easy wins in the SEC.