The Missouri Tigers will begin their third season in the Southeastern Conference on Aug. 30, when they take on the South Dakota State Jackrabbits. The Tigers were an interesting surprise in 2013. Coming off a season where they had only won two conference games, there was hardly any pundits who can claim they had predicted a SEC title run. Was last season a fluke, or can the Tigers be a legit contender again this year?
Mizzou had a rough 2012, with injuries piling up, and only five wins when the season concluded. Taken at face value, the first season in the SEC didn’t seem too lopsided. It wasn’t as if the Tigers were blown off the football field, right? While it’s true three of their seven losses came by a touchdown or less, only one is worth bragging about.
A seven point loss to the No. 9 Florida Gators looks okay on paper, but the Gators’ offense has been a mess under Will Muschamp, and how about a four point loss to the No. 23 Vanderbilt Commodores? Sure, it looks decent in a box score, but Missouri was taken down easily by the Alabama Crimson Tide, Texas A&M Aggies, South Carolina Gamecocks and Georgia Bulldogs. The Tigers were outmatched.
Last season was a magical run. Missouri compiled 12 wins, and was just a few defensive stops away from playing in the final BCS Championship. The black and gold deserve plenty of credit for their SEC East title last season; they only lost one game within their division.
Florida was in the process of hitting rock bottom at four wins, and Georgia was suffering from a few injuries, and not to mention the Tigers didn’t have to play the Auburn Tigers, prior to the SEC Championship, of course, LSU Tigers or Alabama. Don’t freak out; this isn’t to say Mizzou was lucky, but the formula doesn’t seem likely to work again.
Missouri lost a ton of talent from last years’ team to the NFL. Kony Ealy, Justin Britt, E.J. Gaines, Michael Sam, James Franklin, Henry Josey were all major contributors in 2013, and they’re gone. The top three receivers from a year ago will have to be replaced as well. Are the Tigers going to suffer a drop in the win column simply because good players left? No, however the problem is the depth to replace last years’ production doesn’t match the rest of the conference.
According to 247 Sports, since joining the SEC in 2012, Mizzou hasn’t pulled in a recruiting class ranked higher than 11th in the conference. Even after obtaining the SEC East title last season, the Tigers sat at 13th in the final 2014 rankings. The Kentucky Wildcats have even brought in classes better than Missouri the past two seasons.
The reason Missouri was able to shock the nation a year ago was a combination of great coaching from Gary Pinkel and his staff, to go along with some great player development. It isn’t realistic to expect the same results this season. With just six starters returning on both offense and defense, and nowhere near the depth to compete at the level needed to survive the SEC each week, the Tigers are poised to suffer some setbacks.