Missouri is coming off the best five-year run in school history, and the goal for coach Gary Pinkel must be to keep moving forward despite a change of address.
Mizzou has left the Big 12 and will be in the SEC this fall, and one of the more interesting storylines in college football 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.
Dual-threat QB James Franklin should be one of the better players in the league at his position, and 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.
Last season: 8-5 overall, 5-4 in Big 12 (5th in league)
Coach: Gary Pinkel (85-54, 12th season; 158-91-3, 22nd season overall)
Returning starters (minimum 7 starts last season): Offense (5) – T Justin Britt, QB James Franklin, TB Henry Josey (could miss season), WR T.J. Moe, C Travis Ruth (moving to G). Defense (5) – CB Kip Edwards, CB E.J. Gaines, E Brad Madison, LB Zaviar Gooden, LB Andrew Wilson. Special teams (1) – P Trey Barrow.
Fast fact: Missouri's last outright conference championship came in 1960, when it won the Big Eight title. It went 11-0 that season, the only unbeaten record in school history.
Missouri has averaged at least 400 yards of offense per game in each of the past seven seasons; the second-longest such streak among SEC schools is three (Alabama, Arkansas and Texas A&M). The pieces appear to be in place for that streak to reach eight, and coordinator David Yost should have fun this fall.
The biggest issue is the line. It helps that T Elvis Fisher, who missed last season with a knee injury, has been granted a sixth season of eligibility. Senior Travis Ruth, who started at center last season, has moved to guard. The other returning starters are G Jack Meiners and T Justin Britt, who is moving to theright side after playing left tackle in Fisher's absence last season. The new center is sophomore Mitch Morse. Depth is a huge concern, as there are no experienced backups.
Franklin missed most of spring practice with a shoulder injury, but should be ready for the opener. He exceeded expectations last season, his first as the starter. He threw for 2,865 yards and 21 TDs, and added 981 yards and 15 touchdowns on the ground. The rushing total was the fifth-highest nationally by a quarterback last season. He needs to cut down on his interceptions (11, though six of them came in two games).
WR T.J. Moe should be a candidate for All-SEC honors. His production dropped off last season (from 92 receptions in 2010 to 54), but he's a savvy route-runner with good hands. Good things are expected from junior Marcus Lucas, a big target (he's 6 feet 5 and 215 pounds) who tied for the team lead with five TD receptions last season. Junior L'Damian Washington, who had 20 catches last season, will be a more important part of the offense this season.
The Tigers will miss TE Michael Egnew, who had a combined 140 catches in 2010 and '11. The new tight end likely will be junior Eric Waters, who has just two career receptions but looks to have the ability to get deep.
Tailback is a mystery. Henry Josey had a big freshman season, rushing for 1,168 yards and nine TDs. But he suffered a severe knee injury in Game 10 and seems likely to miss this season. That would give the starting job to senior Kendial Lawrence. Depth is a big concern, which likely puts even more pressure on Franklin to be an important part of the rushing attack.
Missouri was fourth in the Big 12 in defense last season, allowing 380.0 yards per game; that figure would've ranked 11th in the SEC.
Only one starter returns along the defensive front, and that should make everyone associated with Mizzou nervous. Are the Tigers going to be able to hold up against the run?
The one returning starter up front is junior E Brad Madison, who was more consistent as a redshirt freshman in 2010 than he was last season. Former five-star recruit Sheldon Richardson is expected tostart at one tackle spot; he had 37 tackles, two sacks and six tackles for loss in a reserve role last season, and should move smoothly into a starting role. The other tackle spot likely will go to sophomore Lucas Vincent, who made 11 tackles last season. Sophomore Kony Ealy should be the other starting end. Depth is an issue across the front.
Linebacker is the strongest position on defense. Senior Zaviar Gooden and junior Andrew Wilson are returning starters, and senior Will Ebner has started in the past but also been dogged by injuries. Wilson led the team with 98 tackles last season, while Gooden had 80 stops to go along with two interceptions and four pass breakups. Ebner had 78 tackles and 9.5 tackles for loss in 2009, the last season he was fully healthy.
Junior CB E.J. Gaines should vie for all-league honors. He had two picks, 16 pass breakups and 69 tackles last season. Kip Edwards also is a returning starter at corner, and depth is good, too. FS Braylon Webb and SS Kenronte Walker each made four starts last season, and combined for 80 tackles. Depth at safety looks fine.
P Trey Barrow returns after averaging 44.8 yards per attempt, which was ninth nationally. He shared kicking duties with the since-departed Grant Ressel last season, but lacks distance (just one attempt of longer than 39 yards, which he missed) and could lose that job.
Gaines (punts) and Moe (kickoffs) were fine as return men last fall. The coverage units were strong, too.
The opener, against FCS member Southeastern Louisiana, should be a breeze. Then things get tough.
Game 2 is a visit from Georgia, which will be the Tigers' first SEC game. Game 3 is a visit from Arizona State. Then come back-to-back road games against South Carolina and UCF, which will be favored to win Conference USA. And that's just September.
October brings a visit from Alabama, and there are road games against Florida, Tennessee and Texas A&M in November.
If Pinkel and his staff can adequately rebuild the defensive line, Mizzou should be in the East Division title mix in its first season in the SEC. Thing is, there isn't much time to get the job done, with games against SEC East favorites Georgia and South Carolina in the first four weeks of the season.
The offense will pose problems for opponents. It's a diversified attack, and Franklin's running ability adds an extra dimension. But if you can't stop the run, you don't have much success in the SEC, and the issues along the defensive line should raise red flags.
Still, Missouri's bowl streak is at seven, and the Tigers should make it eight this fall. An eight-victory season looms, and if everything breaks right, the Tigers could win nine or even 10.
The recruiting side
Average recruiting ranking for past five years: 33rd nationally
The buzz: The Tigers received a huge boost on signing day when the nation's No. 1 overall prospect, WR Dorial Green-Beckham of Springfield, Mo., decided to remain in-state. The state of Missouri is absolutely loaded in the class of 2013, and Green-Beckham's decision should help keep other top players in-state as well. Mizzou has commitments from two of the state's three four-star prospects and has nine players from the state on its commitment list already. It could end up with 12 or 13, which is almost unheard of for the Tigers. – Brian Perroni, Rivals.com
WR Dorial Green-Beckham. The breakout player won't even go into fall camp as a starter. But there is no one around Missouri football who expects Green-Beckham to lag behind on the depth chart for long. He is expected to make an immediate impact and add to a passing game that averaged nearly 12.5 yards per completion a year ago. – Gabe DeArmond, PowerMizzou.com
For more on Missouri throughout the season, check out PowerMizzou.com
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