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Lines are biggest questions for Pinkel, Missouri

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Missouri is coming off, by far, the best five-year run in school history.

The goal now for coach Gary Pinkel and his Tigers is to continue playing at a high level while residing at a new address.

Mizzou has left the Big 12 an will be in the SEC this fall, and one of the more interesting storylines in college football this season will be whether the Tigers can continue their success. Missouri has won 48 games in the past five seasons; included in that span were just the second, third and fourth double-digit win totals in school history.

Missouri at-a-glance
Coach: Gary Pinkel (12th season)
Last season: 8-5 overall, 5-4 in Big 12
Spring practice dates: March 6-April 14
Returning starters:
(minimum seven starts last season)
Offense (5): T Justin Britt, QB James Franklin, TB Henry Josey, WR T.J. Moe, C Travis Ruth
Defense (5): CB Kip Edwards, CB E.J. Gaines, E Brad Madison, LB Zaviar Gooden, LB Andrew Wilson
Special teams (1): P Trey Barrow

One positive about their move to the SEC this fall is that they are joining the SEC East, the weaker of the league's two divisions. Traditional division heavyweights Florida and Tennessee are down, about as down as they have been since the league split into divisions in 1992. And while division foes Georgia and South Carolina will be in most preseason top 15s, each has big questions. Thus, the division isn't as daunting as usual.

Missouri has other positives, as well. Dual-threat QB James Franklin should contend for all-league honors as should WR T.J. Moe. The back seven on defense should be fine.

But the lines on both sides of the ball have questions, and that's not good in a league as dependent on stellar line play as the SEC. Just two starting offensive linemen return, though T Elvis Fisher, who missed last season with a knee injury, has been granted a sixth season of eligibility. Only one starter is back on the defensive front.

If Pinkel and his staff can adequately rebuild the lines, Mizzou should be in the East Division title mix in its first season in the SEC.

Gabe DeArmond of PowerMizzou.com – a Rivals.com website that covers Missouri – provides a more in-depth look at spring practice.

The biggest problem: Defensive tackle. Missouri lost its two starting defensive tackles in Dominique Hamilton and Terrell Resonno. Sheldon Richardson, a former five-star recruit, played well at times last season, his first in major-college ball after a junior college detour. He'll be counted on to be Mizzou's man in the middle this season. Sophomore Lucas Vincent should join him in the starting lineup. Beyond that, there are plenty of questions. What depth the Tigers did have took a hit with Marvin Foster suffering a torn ACL; his long-term status is uncertain right now. What sets the SEC apart is the defensive linemen, and defensive line is Missouri's biggest question mark right now.

On the spot: S Tavon Bolden. Bolden was expected to challenge for a starting role last season, but he was suspended during the summer and kicked off the team before fall camp. He earned his way back in the good graces of the coaches and returned to the roster at the end of last semester. His return couldn't come at a better time for the Tigers. SS Kenji Jackson is gone and Missouri is without a proven safety. FSs Kenronte Walker and Braylon Webb had their moments last season, but if Bolden can deliver on his potential, it will help the Tigers' defense. He has to perform off the field perhaps even better than he does on it.

On the verge: QB James Franklin. This may not be the right place to put Franklin, but he's our pick here. Franklin had his breakout season last fall, accounting for nearly 4,000 yards of total offense and putting together stats that compared favorably with the debut campaigns of Chase Daniel and Blaine Gabbert. But Franklin isn't yet a household name in college football. That could change this season. Most believe he could be one of the top three quarterbacks in the SEC, along with Tyler Wilson and Aaron Murray. If he can live up to that billing and perhaps even improve on his sophomore season, Missouri can open some eyes in its new conference.

General overview: More eyes than normal will be on Mizzou this spring. For sure, there are 12 SEC teams and fan bases who probably haven't paid all that much attention to the Tigers in the past. Each of the past two starting quarterbacks won eight games in his first season as a starter. Daniel then guided the Tigers to a 12-2 season, a Cotton Bowl win and a top-five ranking. Gabbert won 10 games as a junior, as well. The goal for the Tigers is to continue on that path with Franklin. TB Henry Josey, who led the Big 12 in rushing last season, will miss spring drills and Kendial Lawrence will have to fill the void. The receiving corps loses three starters, but L'Damian Washington led the team in yards per catch and Marcus Lucas set a Missouri record for fourth-quarter touchdown catches last season. Those two are expected to step in as starters to give Franklin more weapons.

For in-depth coverage of Missouri athletics, go to PowerMizzou.com.

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