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SEC Season Preview: Missouri

By Matt Smith
SouthernPigskin.com
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Previewing the 2017 Missouri Tigers.

Head Coach: Barry Odom – second year at Missouri and overall (4-8 overall, 2-6 SEC)

Offensive Coordinator: Josh Heupel (second season)

Defensive Coordinator: De’Montie Cross (second season) and Ryan Walters (second season)

2016 Record: 4-8 (2-6 SEC)

Returning Starters: 15 (10 offense, 5 defense)

2017 Schedule

Sept. 2 – MISSOURI STATE (12 p.m. ET, SEC Network)

Sept. 9 – SOUTH CAROLINA (7 p.m. ET, ESPN2)

Sept. 16 – PURDUE (4 p.m. ET, SEC Network)

Sept. 23 – AUBURN

Oct. 7 – at Kentucky

Oct. 14 – at Georgia

Oct. 21 – IDAHO

Oct. 28 – at Connecticut

Nov. 4 – FLORIDA

Nov. 11 – TENNESSEE

Nov. 18 – at Vanderbilt

Nov. 24 – at Arkansas (2:30 p.m. ET, CBS)

What We Know

-The skill positions are back at the levels that helped lead Missouri to back-to-back division titles. The Tigers have their top four receivers back from 2016, led by senior J’Mon Moore (1,012 yards, eight TD). He’s a big-play threat, averaging more than 16 yards per reception last year, with weekly consistency his biggest area to improve. All three contributors at tailback also return, with sophomore Damarea Crockett a breakout performer last season as a true freshman. The Tigers ground attack improved drastically last year, going from 3.5 yards per carry in 2015 to 4.9.

-The Tigers might have the best quarterback in the SEC East. Yes, Jacob Eason and Jake Bentley are receiving most of the fanfare, but it’s Lock who led returning quarterbacks in the division in yards and touchdowns last season for a revved up Tigers attack under first-year coordinator Josh Heupel. At 225 pounds, Lock can withstand the physical pounding of SEC defenses, and he’s the only quarterback in the nation that threw for 3,000-plus yards last season and has a returning 1,000-yard rusher (Crockett) and 1,000-yard receiver (Moore).

-The defense is going back to attack mode. After registering just 10 sacks in the first eight games, head coach Barry Odom put his stamp back on the Tigers defense, switching back to a more aggressive approach. The Tigers finished with 16 sacks in their final four games. Charles Harris is gone, but Marcell Frazier appears to be next in a long line of elite Tigers pass rushers. The senior registered 7.5 sacks last season and should finally have a healthy Terry Beckner inside to take away some attention from opposing offensive lines.

What We Don’t Know

-How big of a drop-off will there be at linebacker? Donavin Newsom and Michael Scherer were mainstays for three season, but both have moved on. Talkative senior Eric Beisel will anchor the unit in the middle, but the Tigers aren’t completely starting over with senior Joey Burkett and junior Brandon Lee sandwiching him. Matching or improving on last year’s statistics won’t be that difficult, particularly against the run, but Newsom and Scherer aren’t as easily replaceable as last year’s numbers would suggest.

-Likewise, can the top two cornerbacks be replaced? Gone are Aairon Penton and John Gibson, who combined for eight interceptions and 17 pass breakups. There’s a higher bar than the run defense, but Missouri wasn’t exactly difficult to pass on last year, as opponents averaged four 20-plus yard completions per game (No. 106 in the nation). Senior Logan Cheadle has played in 32 career games, but there’s a whole bunch of unknown commodities behind him.

-Will the pass protection be as good as it was in 2016? Heupel’s quick-passing tendencies certainly were a factor, but allowing just 14 sacks in 12 games for an SEC team is really, really good. The Tigers have all five linemen back this season, so anything more than a minimal drop-off would be a surprise. Keep the sacks number in the teens this year, and this offense should be on its way to topping 30 points per game once again.

X-Factor

Beckner – The back seven is going to have its ups and downs, but if Beckner turns into the player that he appeared to be coming out of high school, when he was a top-10 prospect nationally, the defensive line could become a significant asset to complement the explosive offense. His consecutive knee injuries are an obvious concern, however. He might just never be close to the player that he once was thought to be. Tigers fans will be quite anxious to find out come September.

Ranking The Units

1.   Running Backs

2.   Offensive Line

3.   Quarterbacks

4.   Wide Receivers

5.   Defensive Line

6.   Linebackers

7.   Defensive Backs

Season Prediction

I’m pretty bullish on Missouri this year. They were predicted last in the SEC East at SEC Media Days, but I think the Tigers climb all the way to fourth after two years in the basement. Lock will have the best season of any quarterback in the division, and Odom will help resurrect the defense, much as Derek Mason did in his second year at Vanderbilt after he became more hands-on with the defense. A cheesy non-conference slate and a big home upset of Florida will help lead the Tigers to a surprising seven-win season.

Overall Record: 7-5

SEC Record: 3-5

Final CFP Ranking: NR

Bowl: Liberty Bowl vs. Iowa State

Previous Previews

Florida

Georgia

Kentucky

Matt Smith - Matt is a 2007 graduate of Notre Dame and has spent most of his life pondering why most people in the Mid-Atlantic actually think there are more important things than college football. He has blogged for College Football News, covering both national news as well as Notre Dame and the service academies. He credits Steve Spurrier and Danny Wuerffel for his love of college football and tailgating at Florida, Tennessee, and Auburn for his love of sundresses. Matt covers the ACC as well as the national scene.