The Missouri Tigers sprang up out of the shadows of the SEC last season in a big way, winning 11 regular season games and claiming a spot in the SEC Championship Game against Auburn. With a Cotton Bowl win over the Oklahoma Sooners, the Tigers capped off only their second 12-win season under head coach Gary Pinkel in his 13 years with the program, most of which was spent in the Big 12.
Missouri is going to have to do without quarterback James Franklin this season, and the secondary will have to make some major adjustments after being torched through the air in 2013. Are the Tigers in a position to repeat as East Division champions in the SEC?
Franklin was the catalyst for the offense last season with 2,429 yards and 19 touchdowns passing, as well as adding 510 yards and four scores on the ground. The reigns are now being handed over to Maty Mauk, who got a chance to display himself last season during a four-game stretch in which Franklin was injured. Mauk delivered in a big way with over 1,000 yards passing and 11 touchdowns compared to only two interceptions. Mauk is going to be one of the best pure passers in the SEC this season, and a team coached by Pinkel should never be counted out on offense.
Missouri had a great core of running backs a season ago with three rushers eclipsing 600 yards. Henry Josey sort of stole the show late in the year and is now off to the NFL, but returning backs Russell Hansbrough and Marcus Murphy are perfectly capable of running the ball for the Tigers this season, especially behind an offensive line that improved dramatically in 2013. Three big men are back this season for the Missouri front, including standout center Even Boehm. Running the ball shouldn’t be an issue.
At the beginning of the offseason, Missouri’s receiving corps looked to just fine, despite losing the top two pass-catchers, Marcus Lucas and L’Damian Washington, to graduation. But when former five-star recruit Dorial Green-Beckham was dismissed from the team in April, things become a lot less stable out wide.
Missouri’s defense failed miserably last season when it came to defending the pass. Opposing quarterbacks were able to complete 62.8 percent of their passes for 264 yards per game, which outgained the lethal passing attack of the Tigers’ offense. Cornerbacks E.J. Gaines and Randy Ponder will need to be replaced, likely by sophomores Arian Penton and John Gibson. Good experience at safety should help limit the big plays, but as a whole, this Missouri secondary could be in for more trouble this season.
The linebackers look similar to the secondary with only one man returning. Kentrell Brothers will be moving from outside to inside linebacker this season in order to replace Andrew Wilson in the center.
At defensive line, the Tigers have a few names to replace, but it looks much brighter up front than it does in the back. Pass-rushers Michael Sam and Kony Ealy will be missed, but Missouri returns every defensive tackle from the end-of-year two-deep, offering depth on the inside.
Non-conference games against teams like South Dakota State and Toledo don’t look very intriguing. But on Sept. 20 the Indiana Hoosiers will travel to Missouri in what is a very underrated game early in the college football season. Both teams will bring in a lethal offensive attack against an unproved defense, which makes for exciting, high-scoring games.
Beginning the SEC schedule right away with a game at South Carolina is a tall order to fill. After that, October is going to offer three good tests for the Tigers. Getting Georgia and Vanderbilt at home will be a huge help, but traveling to Florida in between those games resembles a classic trap in the schedule.
The remainder of the schedule doesn’t look too bad at all. Texas A&M is going to continue a downward trend that started last season, and Tennessee simply isn’t good enough to compete with Missouri this year. Ending the year with a home game against Arkansas should offer the Tigers the perfect opportunity to get tuned up before another possible SEC Championship Game berth.