Confused? Check out the glossary here.
1. First impressions only matter until the second
Timing is a funny thing. Missouri fans have found themselves thinking about that a lot over the last nine months. Speaking in hypotheticals, it wasn't difficult for fans to believe that their Tigers would be able to pretty quickly hold their own in the SEC East. After all, under Gary Pinkel Mizzou had played at a Top 30 level, according to the F/+ rankings, for five of six years heading into 2012. In 2007 and 2008, Missouri teams that ranked ninth and 14th respectively in F/+ would have each been the No. 2 team in the SEC East. Hell, in 2010, No. 13 Missouri would have been the highest-ranked SEC East team. And even in 2011, the No. 22 Tigers would have still been a respectable third.
Florida's and Georgia's respective improvement in 2012 ensured that Missouri's ceiling was limited in a tougher East, but instead of pitting even a Top 30 squad against the best conference in the land, Pinkel put his worst team in at least eight years, and perhaps as many as 10 or 11 years, onto the field. His quarterback missed all summer with a shoulder injury, suffered another one in September, sprained his MCL in October, and suffered a concussion in November. All five projected offensive line starters missed time with injury. And his best player, a running back, was on the sidelines all season in a knee brace.
With the college football world paying pretty close attention, Mizzou chose a really bad time to not only test its depth dramatically, but fail that test. The reward? An offseason full of "They weren't ready" talk, not to mention a little bit of "Pinkel on the hot seat" chatter. The good news, however, is that while first impressions seem like a really, really big deal, they only matter until the second one. If the Tigers go 12-0 this fall (and they won't), the story line isn't going to be "Yeah, but they sure did struggle in 2012." Mizzou can erase the bad taste of 2012 with a happy 2013. Will they?
2. Bad year vs. trend
When you are eternally working with small, statistically insignificant samples, you tend to see what you want to see in the data. One can look at Missouri's F/+ progression and see any of three different things:
A) A five-year span that has seen Missouri regress four times. I noted something similar in Auburn's chart this week, and while Mizzou's 2010 surge wasn't an actual outlier (it was approximately on par with the 2007 and 2008 seasons), you can certainly see a similar path overall.
B) Clear proof that Missouri can bounce back following an iffy season (as the Tigers did in 2010). The Tigers have still spent five of the last seven seasons playing at a Top 30 level, and when things fell apart a big in 2009, following massiver turnover in personnel and two coordinator changes, they regrouped the next year.
C) An awful drawing of either a spider or a bird.
The 2013 season still won't bring us to statistical significance, but it will set in stone the story line facing Gary Pinkel for the rest of his career. Either Mizzou struggles to play even average football again and Pinkel is (likely) fired, Mizzou bounces back just enough to go 6-6 or 7-5 and tread water (with a clear "Mizzou's never going to win more than seven games again with Pinkel" narrative), or the Tigers once again spring back toward the Top 15 or 20 and, against an easier schedule, perhaps win eight to 10 games. The middle scenario is probably the most likely, but all three options are on the table.
2012 Schedule & Results
|Record: 5-7 | Adj. Record: 8-4 | Final F/+ Rk: 58|
|Date||Opponent||Score||W-L||Adj. Score||Adj. W-L|
|1-Sep||SE Louisiana||62-10||W||24.9 - 25.3||L|
|8-Sep||Georgia||20-41||L||26.3 - 15.2||W|
|15-Sep||Arizona State||24-20||W||21.8 - 18.5||W|
|22-Sep||at South Carolina||10-31||L||26.1 - 36.3||L|
|29-Sep||at Central Florida||21-16||W||29.8 - 20.5||W|
|6-Oct||Vanderbilt||15-19||L||27.7 - 16.7||W|
|13-Oct||Alabama||10-42||L||6.7 - 32.7||L|
|27-Oct||Kentucky||33-10||W||21.0 - 17.3||W|
|3-Nov||at Florida||7-14||L||25.2 - 21.7||W|
|10-Nov||at Tennessee||51-48||W||25.2 - 30.4||L|
|17-Nov||Syracuse||27-31||L||38.0 - 29.5||W|
|24-Nov||at Texas A&M||29-59||L||35.5 - 28.6||W|
|Points Per Game||25.8||82||28.4||68|
|Adj. Points Per Game||25.7||86||24.4||31|
3. The defense eventually gave out
The offense never had a chance. One could make the case that James Franklin was even reasonably healthy for six to eight quarters all season (four of which were against SE Louisiana), but even a perfectly healthy, experienced QB wouldn't have solved all of Mizzou's offensive woes. Because of both turnover from the year before (three two- or three-year starters from 2011 graduated) and the aforementioned injuries, the Tigers were starting a new center (one struggling with shotgun snaps), a true freshman at left guard, and a walk-on at right guard.
The national scoring average is around 28 points, so in the first 10 weeks of the season, one could say Mizzou played at an above-average offensive level just once, against UCF. That's a lot of pressure to put on a defense, and while coordinator Dave Steckel's unit held up for most of the year, it gave out in November.
Adj. Points Per Game (with James Franklin): 27.9
Adj. Points Per Game (with Corbin Berkstresser): 22.5
Adj. Points Per Game Allowed (first 9 games): 22.7
Adj. Points Per Game Allowed (last 3 games): 29.5
|Q1 Rk||65||1st Down Rk||70|
|Q2 Rk||85||2nd Down Rk||35|
|Q3 Rk||44||3rd Down Rk||75|
4. A little more experience than expected
I frequently say that injuries hurt in the present tense but help in the future. The original projected starting offensive line featured three senior starters, which meant that the Tigers might be heading into 2013 with a reasonably inexperienced line. But two of those seniors were limited to a combined three starts; freshman Evan Boehm started 12 games, sophomore Mitch Morse started 11, and redshirt freshman Brad McNulty started five.
Only one of those three was originally expected to start, so 2012's inexperience could have a positive role moving forward. Plus, the Tigers now have a pretty seasoned backup quarterback and an experienced skill position corps. The Tigers could benefit from a load of experience they didn't originally expect to have. Of course, all the experience in the world doesn't matter if talent is also an issue.
Mizzou's line regressed an incredible amount in 2012, from second in Adj. Line Yards to almost 100th. The fall was so steep that you really can't blame injuries for all of it; the same, actually, goes for a 2012 offense that plummeted overall from 24th to 85th in Off. F/+. Almost no team outside of Alabama can withstand that many personnel issues without a decent drop-off, but 60 spots? While the national focus will be mostly on the quarterback battle -- Franklin held off Berkstresser and high school yardage king Maty Mauk this spring, but the fight continues in August -- the magnitude of the line's improvement will determine a good portion of Mizzou's 2013 fate.
Note: players in bold below are 2013 returnees. Players in italics are questionable with injury/suspension.
|James Franklin||6'2, 230||Sr.||**** (5.8)||139||234||1,562||59.4%||10||7||20||7.9%||5.5|
|Corbin Berkstresser||6'3, 225||So.||*** (5.7)||88||177||1,059||49.7%||5||7||9||4.8%||5.2|
|Maty Mauk||6'1, 200||RSFr.||*** (5.7)|
|Eddie Printz||6'3, 210||Fr.||*** (5.7)|
|Trent Hosick||6'1, 230||Fr.||*** (5.7)|
|Henry Josey (2011)||RB||5'10, 185||Jr.||*** (5.7)||145||1,168||8.1||7.4||9||+20.2|
|James Franklin||QB||6'2, 230||Sr.||**** (5.8)||68||290||4.3||5.1||0||-4.0|
|Marcus Murphy||RB||5'9, 185||Jr.||*** (5.7)||46||251||5.5||4.4||1||+3.8|
|Corbin Berkstresser||QB||6'3, 225||So.||*** (5.7)||44||143||3.3||2.6||3||-6.2|
|Russell Hansbrough||RB||5'9, 185||So.||*** (5.6)||37||139||3.8||2.0||0||-3.4|
|Dorial Green-Beckham||WR||6'6, 220||So.||***** (6.1)||5||16||3.2||2.4||0||-1.3|
|Morgan Steward||RB||6'0, 215||RSFr.||*** (5.7)|
|Chase Abbington||RB||6'4, 210||Fr.||**** (5.8)|
5. Hello, Henry
Henry Josey. Christian Petersen, Getty.
When you miss a bowl for the first time in eight years, you probably aren't going to have a very fun offseason. But one happy story did permeate Columbia this spring: the return of Henry Josey.
Josey began 2011 as a third-stringer, but he became the feature back by the second game of the year. In an eight-game stretch, he rushed 139 times for 1,125 yards and nine touchdowns, but against Texas he tore up his knee so badly (torn ACL, torn MCL, torn patellar tendon) that Longhorns head coach Mack Brown walked across the field to shake his hand as he was being carted off. Multiple surgeries and a full year of recovery later, he was taking handoffs in spring practice. He probably cannot be counted on to immediately resume his 2011 pace this fall, but between Josey, star kick/punt returner Marcus Murphy, some young backs, and an improved line, Mizzou should be able to improve on its No. 64 Rushing S&P+ ranking even despite the loss of Kendial Lawrence.
Burned-out offensive coordinator David Yost resigned last winter. New coordinator Josh Henson seems to be installing a bit more power into the Mizzou attack (tight ends actually lined up tight, et al), and it could pay off with this personnel.
|Marcus Lucas||WR-X||6'5, 220||Sr.||**** (5.8)||84||47||534||56.0%||6.4||22.2%||59.5%||6.4||70.4|
|L'Damian Washington||WR-Z||6'4, 200||Sr.||** (5.4)||55||25||443||45.5%||8.1||14.5%||45.5%||7.3||58.4|
|Dorial Green-Beckham||WR-X||6'6, 220||So.||***** (6.1)||43||27||386||62.8%||9.0||11.3%||62.8%||9.0||50.9|
|Bud Sasser||WR-H||6'2, 210||Jr.||*** (5.7)||24||10||216||41.7%||9.0||6.3%||50.0%||7.5||28.5|
|Jimmie Hunt||WR-H||6'1, 215||Jr.||**** (5.8)||13||11||198||84.6%||15.2||3.4%||53.8%||15.6||26.1|
|Marcus Murphy||RB||5'9, 185||Jr.||*** (5.7)||13||9||22||69.2%||1.7||3.4%||53.8%||1.5||2.9|
|Darius White (2011 Texas)||WR||6'3, 200||Jr.||**** (6.0)||8||5||66||62.5%||8.3||2.4%||62.5%||N/A||N/A|
|Eric Waters||TE||6'4, 245||Sr.||*** (5.6)||8||4||27||50.0%||3.4||2.1%||75.0%||2.7||3.6|
|Jaleel Clark||WR-Z||6'4, 220||Sr.||*** (5.6)||3||1||6||33.3%||2.0||0.8%||0.0%||2.4||0.8|
|Sean Culkin||TE||6'6, 240||RSFr.||*** (5.7)|
|Levi Copelin||WR-H||6'2, 185||RSFr.||*** (5.6)|
|J'Mon Moore||WR||6'3, 180||Fr.||*** (5.7)|
6. Big plays vs. consistency
Missouri had four different receivers with at least one 40-yard catch last season. And in terms of recruiting rankings, this is easily the most highly rated unit Mizzou's got, with former all-world signee Dorial Green-Beckham and three former four-stars (Marcus Lucas, Jimmie Hunt, Texas transfer Darius White) in the rotation.
This unit has almost as much explosiveness and potential as any in college football, but only three of the top seven targets averaged better than a paltry 6.4 yards per target (and two of those three had catch rates far below 50 percent). Quarterback play was obviously a major issue, but so were drops -- Lucas was especially plagued by them in the middle of the season. If the receiving corps begins to live up to its potential (and Green-Beckham was certainly the No. 1 star of spring practice), the offense's ceiling begins to approach that of previous Mizzou offenses once again.
Side note: Jimmie Hunt must either be a terrible blocker or awful in practice. He is spectacular with the ball in his hands -- his 12 career catches have produced 253 yards and four TDs, and he scored on a kick return against Tennessee when the Vols tried to kick away from Marcus Murphy -- but even on a sputtering offense, he was targeted only about once per game. Whatever his issues are, if he rectifies them and sees more targets, that's probably a very good thing.
|Elvis Fisher||LT||49 career starts|
|Justin Britt||LT||6'6, 320||Sr.||** (5.4)||22 career starts|
|Evan Boehm||LG||6'3, 315||So.||**** (5.8)||12 career starts|
|Max Copeland||RG||6'3, 295||Sr.||NR||11 career starts|
|Mitch Morse||RT||6'5, 305||Jr.||*** (5.7)||11 career starts|
|Jack Meiners||RG||9 career starts|
|Travis Ruth||LG||8 career starts|
|Brad McNulty||C||6'4, 305||So.||*** (5.5)||5 career starts|
|Nick Demien||RG||6'6, 300||Jr.||**** (5.9)|
|Anthony Gatti||LT||6'6, 315||Jr.||*** (5.7)|
|Chris Freeman||RT||6'8, 335||Jr.||*** (5.6)|
|Taylor Chappell||RT||6'5, 320||So.||*** (5.7)|
|Michael Boddie||LG||6'5, 295||So.||*** (5.6)|
|Mitch Hall||LG||6'5, 320||So.||*** (5.6)|
|Connor McGovern||C||6'4, 315||So.||*** (5.5)|
|Clay Rhodes||OL||6'6, 265||Fr.||*** (5.6)|
|Q1 Rk||65||1st Down Rk||22|
|Q2 Rk||26||2nd Down Rk||56|
|Q3 Rk||2||3rd Down Rk||4|
|Rivals||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|Matt Hoch||NG||6'5, 295||Jr.||*** (5.7)||12||27.5||3.9%||4.5||2||0||3||0||0|
|Kony Ealy||DE||6'5, 275||Jr.||**** (5.8)||12||27.0||3.8%||10||3.5||0||7||1||0|
|Michael Sam||DE||6'3, 255||Sr.||** (5.4)||12||15.5||2.2%||7||4.5||0||0||2||1|
|Shane Ray||DE||6'3, 245||So.||*** (5.7)||12||12.0||1.7%||2.5||0||0||0||0||1|
|Markus Golden||DE||6'3, 255||Jr.||*** (5.5)||12||8.0||1.1%||0||0||0||0||1||0|
|Brayden Burnett||DE||6'2, 245||Sr.||*** (5.7)||12||4.5||0.6%||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Marvin Foster||DT||6'1, 290||Sr.||** (5.4)||10||4.5||0.6%||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Lucas Vincent||DT||6'2, 295||Jr.||*** (5.7)||12||2.0||0.3%||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Rickey Hatley||DE||6'4, 260||RSFr.||*** (5.6)|
|Harold Brantley||DT||6'3, 300||RSFr.||** (5.4)|
|Marcus Loud||DE||6'4, 235||Fr.||*** (5.7)|
|Josh Augusta||DT||6'5, 275||Fr.||*** (5.7)|
7. Without an anchor
In all, the Missouri defense returns an acceptable level of experience: Five of the top eight defensive linemen, three of the top five linebackers, and five of the top seven defensive backs return. The defensive end position is exciting, with steady Michael Sam and occasionally dominant Kony Ealy leading the way, the linebacking corps is anchored by Andrew Wilson, and Mizzou has a star in the secondary in E.J. Gaines.
But the Tigers don't have Sheldon Richardson, who became Mizzou's sixth first-round pick in five drafts this past April. Richardson's play was the primary force behind Mizzou's move from 35th to ninth in Adj. Line Yards, and with an iffy pass rush (the ends are decent, but blitz was lacking terribly), Mizzou leaned heavily on run defense to end drives. Without Richardson, Mizzou's pass defense -- both the blitz and the secondary -- faces pressure to improve.
The late-season fade dropped Missouri's defense to 41st in Def. F/+, but it was a relative strength for much of the season. The offense should improve, but if it just offsets defensive regression, that's not exactly a recipe for happiness.
|Rivals||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|Andrew Wilson||SLB||6'3, 235||Sr.||*** (5.5)||12||61.5||8.7%||2.5||0.5||0||4||4||1|
|Donovan Bonner||MLB||6'1, 240||Sr.||** (5.3)||11||30.5||4.3%||2||0||1||1||4||0|
|Kentrell Brothers||SLB||6'1, 235||So.||*** (5.7)||11||10.5||1.5%||0||0||0||1||0||0|
|Darvin Ruise||WLB||6'1, 245||Jr.||*** (5.6)||12||6.0||0.8%||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Clarence Green||SLB||6'0, 225||So.||*** (5.5)||1||0.5||0.1%||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Donavin Newsome||WLB||6'2, 230||RSFr.||*** (5.7)|
|Michael Scherer||MLB||6'3, 235||RSFr.||*** (5.6)|
|Torey Boozer||SLB||6'2, 230||RSFr.||*** (5.6)|
|Rivals||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|E.J. Gaines||CB||5'10, 195||Sr.||*** (5.7)||12||66.0||9.3%||7||0||1||11||2||2|
|Braylon Webb||FS||6'0, 205||Jr.||*** (5.6)||12||50.0||7.1%||1.5||0||0||0||0||1|
|Randy Ponder||CB||5'10, 190||Sr.||*** (5.5)||12||37.0||5.2%||3.5||0||1||2||0||0|
|Matt White||FS||6'0, 195||Sr.||** (5.2)||12||19.0||2.7%||0.5||0||0||2||0||0|
|Ian Simon||SS||5'11, 195||So.||*** (5.5)||10||9.5||1.3%||1||0||0||1||0||0|
|Xavier Smith||CB||5'11, 185||Jr.||*** (5.7)||9||3.0||0.4%||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Ernest Payton||SS||6'2, 210||So.||*** (5.5)||3||2.0||0.3%||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Cortland Browning||FS||6'1, 210||So.||*** (5.6)||3||0.5||0.1%||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|David Johnson||CB||5'11, 190||So.||*** (5.5)|
|John Gibson||CB||5'11, 185||RSFr.||*** (5.5)|
8. Leaning on depth
One of Gary Pinkel's calling cards has been his ability to turn two- and three-star recruits into three- and four-star performers. The Tigers have typically had a few big-time recruits leading the way (the Jeremy Maclins, Blaine Gabberts, and Sheldon Richardsons of the world), but they have found their success in talent evaluation and development.
With only Gaines and maybe Ealy likely to perform at something close to an all-conference level, Mizzou's defensive success will be determined mostly by its ability to throw a lot of interesting youngsters against the wall and hope a few of them stick. Tackles like Lucas Vincent and Harold Brantley will need to show a general level of competence in Richardson's absence up front. Linebackers like Kentrell Brothers and Michael Scherer will perhaps need to make some plays. Cornerbacks (and spring stars) David Johnson, John Gibson, and Xavier Smith will need to combine their strong athleticism with some general technical competence.
Mizzou has options at a lot of positions, but there are few sure things. The Tigers have faced issues like this before and come out alright, but it's never a guarantee.
|Andrew Baggett||6'2, 220||So.||32||61.0||11||34.4%|
|Andrew Baggett||6'2, 220||So.||33-37||9-11||81.8%||5-9||55.6%|
|Marcus Murphy||KR||5'9, 185||Jr.||19||24.1||1|
|Jimmie Hunt||KR||6'1, 215||Jr.||3||36.7||1|
|Marcus Murphy||PR||5'9, 185||Jr.||27||13.9||3|
|Special Teams F/+||20|
|Field Goal Pct||68|
|Kick Returns Avg||14|
|Punt Returns Avg||6|
9. Winning with the return game
Huge punt returns helped to win both the Arizona State and UCF games. A kick return touchdown by Jimmie Hunt helped Mizzou to buy time while its defense figured out how to eventually slow down Tennessee.
Special teams played a direct role in three close wins, and while kickoffs were unimpressive and field goal kicking was unstable through the first half of the season, Mizzou's special teams unit still graded out well because of Marcus Murphy, Hunt, and company. If Mizzou is to drastically out-perform what is likely to be a pretty mediocre projection, special teams will have to play a role in that once again.
2013 Schedule & Projection Factors
|23-Nov||at Ole Miss||29|
|Five-Year F/+ Rk||26|
|Two-Year Recruiting Rk||37|
|TO Margin/Adj. TO Margin*||+1 / +4.0|
|Approx. Ret. Starters (Off. / Def.)||12 (6, 6)|
10. Pinkel vs. Pinkel
To win in the SEC, you have to … field a good team. That's it. To win a lot in the SEC, you have to field a great team. It doesn't matter how you do it -- recruiting, development, blind luck -- it just matters that you do it. There's nothing saying the type of team Gary Pinkel produced for most of the 2006-11 range, with performance exceeding recruiting rankings by 10-20 spots, wouldn't fare alright in the SEC; maybe the records are slightly different (say, one win worse on average), and maybe at some point in the future we have to determine whether the quality of a good Pinkel product (Top 15-25 on average) is good enough. But in 2012, Missouri fielded its worst team since 2004. Maybe the Tigers would have pulled off a 6-6 record in the Big 12, but last year didn't see the typical Pinkel product, and it's up to him to prove he can, at the very least, get Missouri back to where it was.
I wrote that at Rock M Nation at the beginning of spring practice, and I still believe it. Before Missouri can worry about winning in the SEC, it has to worry about re-establishing the level of play it saw before the move to the SEC. Last year was close to being a lot better (without only James Franklin's MCL sprain, the Tigers are in very good position to beat both Vanderbilt and Florida, and without Richardson's suspension, they perhaps beat Syracuse) and close to being a lot worse (without the special teams touchdowns, Mizzou perhaps loses to ASU, UCF, and Tennessee and goes 2-10); but the bottom line is, Missouri just wasn't very good in 2012.
We can debate injuries and downward trends, but we'll start to get a pretty definitive answer, one way or another, in 2013.
The 2013 schedule is full of both opportunity and landmines. A trip to Indiana and visits from strong two mid-majors (Toledo and Arkansas State) could spell doom if Mizzou has an off week, but at the same time, Alabama is off the schedule, and Florida, South Carolina, and Texas A&M must all visit Columbia. A Top 20-30 team could win eight or nine games against this schedule. A team that ranks 58th, as Mizzou did last year, could win four. Predictably, I assume the middle ground: six or seven wins. A season like that won't get Gary Pinkel fired, but it also won't convince recruits that the corner has been turned.