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1. Half-full, half-empty
Missouri returns an exciting sophomore quarterback, two-thirds of its three-headed running back, two wideouts who have combined for 1,000 yards in two seasons, 80 percent of the two-deep from an excellent offensive line, two of four excellent defensive ends, all of its defensive tackles, a former SEC Defensive Player of the Week at linebacker, a well-seasoned set of safeties, an experienced, powerful kicker, and a proven return man.
All of these things are true.
Missouri must replace a three-year starting quarterback, a 1,000-yard rusher, one of the most prolific trios of receivers in college football, a second-round draft pick at offensive line, a consensus All-American at defensive end, a second-round draft pick at defensive end, its leading tackler, and both starting cornerbacks.
All of these things are also true.
Missouri skeptics, those who think the Tigers' 2013 run to 12 wins and an SEC East title was a flash in the pan aided by opponent injuries, and those who think they have lost far too much to expect the same level of success anytime soon, have quite a bit of evidence on their side. And so do those who think Mizzou's on its way to another top-20 performance. With a reasonably easy (by SEC standards) conference slate and playmakers on both sides of the ball, Missouri shouldn't automatically be dismissed as a candidate to win its second straight East title. But with minimal proven production at receiver, up to four starting sophomores at linebacker and cornerback, and an ultra-young second string across the board, the Tigers shouldn't be considered favorites either.
Okay, so now that we've covered that, let's backtrack a bit. If your impression of Missouri this year is at least partially dictated by your impression of the Tigers last year ... what should your impression of them be?
Missouri wasn't actually a top-five team last year. MU finished fifth in the polls by virtue of its 12-2 record, East title, and Cotton Bowl win. On merit, it made perfect sense. On paper, the Tigers probably weren't that good. They were top-15 good, and they were an incredible story no matter what, but they came in at only 14th in the F/+ rankings. That doesn't make them that unique, mind you -- Michigan State (No. 3 in the final polls) ranked sixth in F/+, South Carolina (No. 4) ranked 10th, Oklahoma (No. 6) ranked 20th (!), and Clemson (No. 8) ranked 16th.
Poll rankings come from four months of moving names up and down a list like a draft board, and you would need about 50 more results for each team to get a true idea of the hierarchy at play. Mizzou was one of a few teams that was very good but achieved great results.
Mizzou benefited in the injuries department. One musn't overstate this, of course, but there's no denying that the Tigers missed facing Georgia running back Todd Gurley, Florida quarterback Jeff Driskel, South Carolina quarterback Connor Shaw (for a half), and Tennessee quarterback Justin Worley. But the Tigers were also without their own quarterback, James Franklin, for 13 of 16 quarters (plus an overtime) in those games, not to mention cornerback E.J. Gaines for about 11 of those quarters. Net gain, sure, but ... after 2012, telling the Tigers they benefited from injuries luck will just get a "Well it was only fair!" response.
From a stat perspective, Missouri projects into the 20s overall; the Tigers have ranked 25th or better in five of the last seven years, and track record plays as heavy a role as returning starters in the projections. But depth on defense and play-makers at receiver could make the difference between a return to the teens (and a shot at the East) and a slip outside of the top 40.
2013 Schedule & Results
|Record: 12-2 | Adj. Record: 13-1 | Final F/+ Rk: 14|
|Date||Opponent||Opp. F/+ Rk||Score||W-L||Adj. Score||Adj. W-L||5-gm Adj. Avg.|
|31-Aug||Murray State||N/A||58-14||W||38.3 - 22.5||W|
|7-Sep||Toledo||62||38-23||W||28.8 - 28.1||W|
|21-Sep||at Indiana||56||45-28||W||28.0 - 23.7||W|
|28-Sep||Arkansas State||90||41-19||W||49.3 - 24.5||W|
|5-Oct||at Vanderbilt||50||51-28||W||48.6 - 31.5||W||12.6|
|12-Oct||at Georgia||22||41-26||W||30.0 - 25.8||W||10.2|
|19-Oct||Florida||48||36-17||W||42.4 - 10.6||W||16.4|
|26-Oct||South Carolina||10||24-27||L||24.2 - 24.2||L||15.6|
|2-Nov||Tennessee||72||31-3||W||28.2 - 24.2||W||11.4|
|9-Nov||at Kentucky||97||48-17||W||31.3 - 25.8||W||9.1|
|23-Nov||at Ole Miss||28||24-10||W||36.0 - 23.0||W||10.8|
|30-Nov||Texas A&M||23||28-21||W||26.6 - 15.2||W||6.7|
|7-Dec||vs. Auburn||4||42-59||L||35.5 - 34.2||W||7.0|
|3-Jan||vs. Oklahoma State||8||41-31||W||32.9 - 27.2||W||7.4|
|Points Per Game||39.1||13||23.1||34|
|Adj. Points Per Game||34.3||23||24.3||31|
2. Good, great, good
For most of the first four games of the season, Missouri didn't exactly look like the SEC East contender it eventually became. After a proper destruction of Murray State, the Tigers were glitchy on offense against Toledo and won despite actually getting outgained by three yards. Against Indiana, the offense did what you're supposed to do against the Indiana defense, but the defense struggled for a while after the first quarter. Neither unit looked particularly impressive early against Arkansas State, and MU actually trailed the Red Wolves by two points midway through the third quarter before a nearly perfect final 20 minutes.
Missouri did just enough to get by until conference play started; then the Tigers hit the accelerator.
- Adj. Points Per Game (first 3 games): Mizzou 31.7, Opponent 24.8 (plus-6.9)
- Adj. Points Per Game (next 4 games): Mizzou 42.6, Opponent 23.1 (plus-19.5)
- Adj. Points Per Game (last 7 games): Mizzou 30.7, Opponent 24.8 (plus-5.9)
Mizzou played tremendous ball against Vanderbilt and Florida and posted a big enough first half against Georgia to withstand a second-half run in Athens and take the win. Without Franklin and Gaines, the Tigers were outdueled by Connor Shaw, Bruce Ellington, and a goal post against South Carolina, but the big early wins allowed Mizzou to go back into survival mode in November, again doing just enough to grind out win after win and take their first East title in their second attempt.
|FIVE FACTORS -- OFFENSE|
|Raw Category||Rk||Opp. Adj. Category||Rk|
|EFFICIENCY||Succ. Rt.||45.8%||34||Succ. Rt. +||106.7||40|
|FIELD POSITION||Def. Avg. FP||27.5||24||Def. FP+||107.5||3|
|FINISHING DRIVES||Pts. Per Trip in 40||4.6||36||Redzone S&P+||121.5||12|
|Q1 Rk||48||1st Down Rk||50|
|Q2 Rk||10||2nd Down Rk||23|
|Q3 Rk||35||3rd Down Rk||16|
Note: players in bold below are 2014 returnees. Players in italics are questionable with injury/suspension.
|Maty Mauk||6'0, 200||So.||3 stars (5.7)||68||133||1071||11||2||51.1%||5||3.6%||7.5|
|Corbin Berkstresser||6'3, 225||Jr.||3 stars (5.7)|
|Eddie Printz||6'2, 215||RSFr.||3 stars (5.7)|
3. Big plays vs. efficiency
Depending on if James Franklin or Maty Mauk was behind center, Missouri's offense took on different strengths and weaknesses.
In Franklin's first eight starts (before a rather hit-and-miss postseason), he was as steady as could be. He completed 66 percent of his passes and produced a passer rating of at least 131.8 on seven occasions. (The only time he didn't was against Ole Miss in his first game back from injury.) For the season, he completed 62 percent of his passes at 12.3 yards per completion, and Missouri was efficiency-first with him in charge.
When Maty Mauk took over, the efficient machine turned into a convertible. In his four starts, Mauk completed just 50 percent of his passes but averaged 16.0 yards per completion. The run game clicked equally with both quarterbacks, but inefficiency plagued the Tigers against South Carolina. Both quarterbacks were able to lean on a strong receiving corps on passing downs, but Mauk was both more prone to falling into passing downs and more adept at digging the Tigers out.
You can win plenty of football games with the 2013 version of Maty Mauk running the show, but the droughts could be awfully dangerous. One of Missouri's bigger keys for 2014 will be Mauk's ability to raise his level of efficiency while still maintaining the play-maker flair that made him so dangerous at times. And he knows it.
"Yeah, we went deep a lot, but we’ve got to fix that," he said. "Today I think we had two incompletions on offense with the 1s. And I think they were pretty much my fault. … Ultimately everybody wants to be in the 60s, but I want to shoot for the 70-75 range. If you do that, that’s a high level. And you won’t lose many games doing that. If I can get it out quick and get it to our guys, that’s all i have to do because we have a ton of playmakers."
|Russell Hansbrough||RB||5'9, 190||Jr.||3 stars (5.6)||114||685||4||6.0||6.0||42.1%|
|Marcus Murphy||RB||5'9, 195||Sr.||3 stars (5.7)||92||601||9||6.5||5.8||45.7%|
|Maty Mauk||QB||6'0, 200||So.||3 stars (5.7)||36||263||1||7.3||9.0||47.2%|
|Morgan Steward||RB||6'0, 210||So.||3 stars (5.7)||21||84||1||4.0||2.8||42.9%|
|Trevon Walters||RB||5'10, 195||Fr.||3 stars (5.7)|
|Bud Sasser||WR-Y||6'2, 210||Sr.||3 stars (5.7)||44||26||361||59.1%||10.1%||56.8%||8.2||32||8.2||47.3|
|Jimmie Hunt||WR-H||6'0, 215||Sr.||4 stars (5.8)||35||22||253||62.9%||8.0%||59.4%||7.2||-17||7.4||33.1|
|Marcus Murphy||RB||5'9, 195||Sr.||3 stars (5.7)||13||11||79||84.6%||3.0%||58.3%||6.1||-38||6.0||10.3|
|Darius White||WR-Z||6'3, 205||Sr.||4 stars (6.0)||11||7||76||63.6%||2.5%||63.6%||6.9||-9||6.9||9.9|
|Levi Copelin||WR-Y||6'2, 190||So.||3 stars (5.6)||6||3||61||50.0%||1.4%||80.0%||10.2||19||23.1||8.0|
|Russell Hansbrough||RB||5'9, 190||Jr.||3 stars (5.6)||3||2||11||66.7%||0.7%||0.0%||3.7||-13||2.4||1.4|
|Sean Culkin||TE||6'6, 245||So.||3 stars (5.7)||2||1||6||50.0%||0.5%||100.0%||3.0||-8||3.3||0.8|
|Gavin Otte||WR-H||5'10, 200||Sr.||NR|
|Wesley Leftwich||WR-X||6'1, 200||Jr.||3 stars (5.5)|
|J'Mon Moore||WR-Z||6'3, 190||RSFr.||3 stars (5.7)|
|Nate Brown||WR||6'3, 205||Fr.||4 stars (5.8)|
4. Who catches passes?
It's great for a quarterback to believe his offense has "a ton of playmakers." It would be a problem if he didn't think that. But let's just say that those playmakers will have to prove themselves.
First things first: the running game should be fine. A line that ranked sixth in Adj. Line yards returns five players with starting experience, including star center Evan Boehm. And while the loss of Henry Josey shouldn't be completely written off, if you're going to lose him, you might as well replace him with two backs who combined for 1,286 yards and 13 touchdowns last year. Russell Hansbrough and Marcus Murphy were both more efficient, if less explosive, than Josey a year ago, and bigger back Morgan Steward could see quite a few carries, especially if Murphy ends up spending time at slot receiver, as has been the rumble out of fall camp.
The question, however, comes at receiver. Obviously. In Dorial Green-Beckham (dismissed), L'Damian Washington (graduated) and Marcus Lucas (graduated), Missouri must replace three players who accounted for 20 targets, 12 catches, and 176 yards per game. Their per-target averages (combined: 8.7 yards per target) were only good, not spectacular, but they were big, physical targets who gave Missouri unique matchup advantages and blocked like crazy on run plays.
Missouri is not bereft of returning talent, of course. Bud Sasser has caught 39 passes for 593 yards in his career while Jimmie Hunt has caught 34 for 505. They were also quality blockers last year, and if Mauk leans on his slot receivers in an attempt at raising his efficiency levels, that could mean big things for Hunt and perhaps Marcus Murphy.
But if Sasser and Hunt replace two of last year's big three, who replaces the third guy? Is Murphy ready for that much of a load at a new position? And even if he is, who then replaces Sasser and Hunt as No. 4 and No. 5? The receiving corps gets awfully green, awfully quickly, especially after you get past Texas transfer and likely third starter Darius White. Walk-on Gavin Otte, four-star freshman Nate Brown, and other newcomers are expected to see quite a bit of action, ready or not. If they're ready, Missouri's offense will hum. If they're not, then efficiency and staying out of passing downs becomes even more of a pressing issue.
|Justin Britt||LT||36||2nd All-SEC|
|Evan Boehm||C||6'3, 315||Jr.||4 stars (5.8)||26|
|Mitch Morse||LT||6'6, 305||Sr.||3 stars (5.7)||25|
|Connor McGovern||RT||6'4, 310||Jr.||3 stars (5.5)||14|
|Brad McNulty||C||6'4, 300||Jr.||3 stars (5.5)||5|
|Anthony Gatti||LG||6'6, 315||Sr.||3 stars (5.7)||2|
|Stephen Carberry||RG||6'5, 300||Sr.||NR||0|
|Taylor Chappell||LT||6'5, 300||Jr.||3 stars (5.7)||0|
|Mitch Hall||RG||6'5, 320||Jr.||3 stars (5.6)||0|
|Jordan Williams||LG||6'3, 295||So.||3 stars (5.5)||0|
|Clay Rhodes||LT||6'5, 290||RSFr.||3 stars (5.6)|
|Nate Crawford||RG||6'5, 285||RSFr.||3 stars (5.5)|
|Andy Bauer||OL||6'3, 300||Fr.||4 stars (5.9)|
|Mike Fairchild||RT||6'5, 280||Fr.||2 stars (5.4)|
5. Beards and mullets
The line has told the tale for the Missouri offense more often than not.
In 2011, the Tigers ranked second in Adj. Line Yards and produced a strong running game despite an assembly line of injured running backs. In 2012, the projected starting five never saw the field at the same time because of a swath of injuries, and both a walk-on (Max Copeland) and true freshman (Evan Boehm, the only starter who didn't miss any action) started most of the season; predictably, the Tigers crumpled to 96th in Adj. Line Yards and suffered through their first SEC season. In 2013, with 60+ returning starts and five returnees with starting experience (plus a few SEC-related tweaks to play-calling and use of tight ends), Mizzou surged back to sixth in Adj. Line Yards.
So basically, Missouri has the Auburn of offensive lines.
Thanks mostly to Copeland, Missouri's offensive line was not only good, but also loud and as weird as you could possibly want your line to be. We'll see if the Tigers can replace such extreme production in the receiving corps, and we'll see if the line can adapt to the loss of Copeland and second-round tackle Justin Britt as well as I suspect. We do know, however, that the weirdness hasn't really gone anywhere in Copeland's absence. So there's that, at least.
|FIVE FACTORS -- DEFENSE|
|Raw Category||Rk||Opp. Adj. Category||Rk|
|EFFICIENCY||Succ. Rt.||42.7%||65||Succ. Rt. +||109.6||30|
|FIELD POSITION||Off. Avg. FP||31.1||47||Off. FP+||107.7||2|
|FINISHING DRIVES||Pts. Per Trip in 40||4.0||46||Redzone S&P+||108.3||31|
|Q1 Rk||11||1st Down Rk||32|
|Q2 Rk||41||2nd Down Rk||21|
|Q3 Rk||36||3rd Down Rk||30|
6. Either the MU defense is underrated, or the offense is overrated
When Missouri moved to the SEC, almost all of the talk was about Mizzou's unique offense and how it might be able to cope in its new conference. But at this point, perhaps Missouri's defense should become the first topic of conversation. After all, it has graded out higher than the offense in three of the last four seasons:
- 2010: 10th in Def. F/+, 17th in Off. F/+
- 2011: 24th in Off. F/+, 34th in Def. F/+
- 2012: 41st in Def. F/+, 85th in Off. F/+
- 2013: 11th in Def. F/+, 17th in Off. F/+
In 2013, Missouri's defense employed its typical bend-don't-break identity: occasionally soft zones, solid tackling, and no more blitzing than is absolutely necessary until the opponent reaches the red zone, at which point it's time to tee off. But the Tigers didn't actually bend that much, at least against teams not named Auburn, thanks to the combination of a top-30 run defense and a solid, blitz-free pass rush. Four high-caliber defensive ends allowed Mizzou to form a cloud with its back seven, and an experienced secondary was able to take advantage of quarterbacks that were harried, even when they weren't getting sacked.
It was a solid recipe; the national average for yards per play was about 5.8, and Mizzou went six consecutive games in conference play allowing 5.5 or fewer. And after Auburn went nuts (8.0 per play), Mizzou held Oklahoma State to a humble 5.7 in the bowl game as well.
|Rivals||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|Markus Golden||DE||6'3, 260||Sr.||3 stars (5.5)||14||45.5||5.4%||13.0||6.5||1||0||1||0|
|Shane Ray||DE||6'3, 245||Jr.||3 stars (5.7)||14||33.0||3.9%||9.0||4.5||0||0||2||1|
|Matt Hoch||DT||6'5, 295||Sr.||3 stars (5.7)||13||30.5||3.6%||4.0||3.0||0||1||1||0|
|Lucas Vincent||NG||6'2, 305||Sr.||3 stars (5.7)||14||27.0||3.2%||5.0||2.5||0||1||1||0|
|Harold Brantley||NG||6'3, 290||So.||2 stars (5.4)||14||22.0||2.6%||5.0||0.0||0||3||0||0|
|Josh Augusta||DT||6'4, 300||So.||3 stars (5.7)||14||7.0||0.8%||3.0||2.0||0||0||0||0|
|Evan Winston||DT||6'3, 295||So.||3 stars (5.6)|
|Rickey Hatley||NG||6'4, 270||So.||3 stars (5.6)|
|Marcus Loud||DE||6'4, 270||RSFr.||3 stars (5.7)|
|Charles Harris||DE||6'3, 235||RSFr.||2 stars (5.2)|
7. Teeing off
The funniest stat for me in this preview is that Missouri ranked only 41st in Adj. Sack Rate. The Tigers were fourth in the country with 41 sacks, but that had a lot to do with the fact that opponents attempted more passes against Missouri than any other team in the country. That's what happens when you play pass-happy teams like Toledo, Indiana, Arkansas State, Georgia, South Carolina, Tennessee, Kentucky, Texas A&M, and Oklahoma State. And that's what happens when you spend much of those games up by double digits.
The pass rush was seen as, by far, Missouri's biggest strength in 2013, but it was a bit of a mirage. And Missouri still ranked 11th in Def. F/+.
This speaks to the overall strength of the defense, but there's no question that the ends were still top-notch: more opportunities or not, the foursome of Michael Sam, Kony Ealy, Markus Golden, and Shane Ray combined for 30.5 sacks, 24.5 non-sack tackles for loss, 10 passes defensed, and eight forced fumbles. The loss of Sam and Ealy hurts, but in Golden and Ray, Mizzou still has one of the more proven end duos in the SEC. The question is, what comes after them? Golden and Ray were mostly unproven a year ago before erupting, so perhaps redshirt freshmen Marcus Loud and Charles Harris will erupt just the same; you never really want to count on that, however.
With the top four tackles back, along with Golden and Ray, the line should still be a strength. But the underbelly might be pretty soft if there are injuries.
|Rivals||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|Kentrell Brothers||WLB||6'1, 240||Jr.||3 stars (5.7)||14||55.0||6.5%||6.5||1.0||3||3||0||0|
|Darvin Ruise||WLB||6'1, 240||Sr.||3 stars (5.6)||14||36.0||4.3%||1.0||0.0||1||1||1||0|
|Michael Scherer||MLB||6'3, 235||So.||3 stars (5.6)||14||5.0||0.6%||1.0||0.0||0||0||0||0|
|Donavin Newsom||SLB||6'2, 230||So.||3 stars (5.7)||10||4.5||0.5%||0.0||0.0||0||0||0||0|
|Clarence Green||SLB||6'0, 225||Jr.||3 stars (5.5)|
|Joey Burkett||WLB||6'2, 205||RSFr.||3 stars (5.6)|
|Eric Beisel||MLB||6'3, 235||RSFr.||3 stars (5.6)|
|Brandon Lee||SLB||6'2, 215||Fr.||3 stars (5.7)|
|Rivals||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|Braylon Webb||SS||6'0, 205||Sr.||3 stars (5.6)||14||74.5||8.8%||1.5||0||3||7||0||0|
|Ian Simon||FS||6'0, 195||Jr.||3 stars (5.5)||13||32.0||3.8%||3.5||0||1||4||0||0|
|Duron Singleton||SS||6'1, 210||Sr.||3 stars (5.5)||12||19.0||2.2%||2||0||0||1||1||0|
|Aarion Penton||CB||5'10, 185||So.||3 stars (5.5)||14||14.0||1.7%||1||0||1||1||0||0|
|John Gibson||CB||6'0, 185||So.||3 stars (5.5)||12||11.5||1.4%||0||0||1||3||0||0|
|Cortland Browning||FS||6'1, 205||Jr.||3 stars (5.6)||14||3.5||0.4%||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|David Johnson||CB||5'11, 190||Jr.||3 stars (5.5)||12||3.0||0.4%||1||0||0||0||0||0|
|Anthony Sherrils||SS||6'0, 190||RSFr.||3 stars (5.6)|
|Shaun Rupert||FS||6'1, 185||RSFr.||3 stars (5.5)|
|Kenya Dennis||CB||6'0, 198||Jr.||3 stars (5.5)|
|Raymond Wingo||CB||6'0, 175||Fr.||3 stars (5.7)|
|Thomas Wilson||CB||5'11, 185||Fr.||3 stars (5.7)|
|Logan Cheadle||CB||5'9, 175||Fr.||3 stars (5.6)|
8. Athletic and raw
Missouri appears to have traded brute strength for athleticism at linebacker, potentially replacing underrated Andrew Wilson and Donovan Bonner with speedy sophomores Michael Scherer and Donavin Newsom. Wilson was an outright beast against opposing fullbacks, so we'll see if his absence creates some holes in run defense. But the biggest question comes at cornerback.
When E.J. Gaines got hurt against Georgia, then-freshmen Aarion Penton and John Gibson filled in rather well. They couldn't stop Bruce Ellington late in the South Carolina game, but that's not a huge dishonor. If they live up to the promise they briefly showed, then when combined with a seasoned set of safeties (most notably Braylon Webb), they could help to form a rock solid secondary, one that is once again capable of taking advantage of harried passers.
Still ... you're trading two seniors for two sophomores and some ifs. That's not a trade you actively seek.
|Christian Brinser||6'2, 200||Sr.||68||41.0||6||16||26||61.8%|
|Andrew Baggett||6'1, 215||Jr.||100||63.7||62||0||62.0%|
|Andrew Baggett||6'1, 215||Jr.||66-69||12-17||70.6%||6-8||75.0%|
|Marcus Murphy||KR||5'9, 195||Sr.||27||22.2||0|
|John Gibson||KR||6'0, 185||So.||2||38.5||0|
|Marcus Murphy||PR||5'9, 195||Sr.||21||7.0||0|
|Special Teams F/+||65|
|Field Goal Efficiency||77|
|Punt Return Efficiency||62|
|Kick Return Efficiency||70|
|Opponents' Field Goal Efficiency||97|
9. Andrew Baggett vs. Andrew Baggett
Andrew Baggett was bascially four different players in 2013. First, he was the shaky guy who made just three of six field goals in non-conference play. Then he went 8-for-8 against Vandy and Florida. Then he went 2-for-5 against South Carolina and Tennessee (including the miss off the upright in overtime against S.C.) and shanked a PAT against Kentucky. And just when it appeared he was a lost cause, he went 4-for-4 in the postseason, bombing in a 46-yarder with room to spare in the fourth quarter of the Cotton Bowl.
Good Andrew Baggett is one of the best kickers in the country; his powerful leg is evident in his 62 percent touchback rate on kickoffs and his 6-for-8 showing on FGs longer than 40 yards.
Bad Andrew Baggett is almost too shaky to see the field.
College kickers, man.
2014 Schedule & Projection Factors
|30-Aug||South Dakota State||NR|
|27-Sep||at South Carolina||7|
|15-Nov||at Texas A&M||11|
|Five-Year F/+ Rk||14.0% (23)|
|Two-Year Recruiting Rk||37|
|TO Margin/Adj. TO Margin*||16 / 5.8|
|Approx. Ret. Starters (Off. / Def.)||8 (4, 4)|
10. Win at home
In two years in the SEC, Missouri has gone 9-7 in conference play and 17-9 overall. If you'd have told me that two years ago, I'd have said that sounds about right -- 8-5 one year and 9-4 the next for a team that had developed into a consistently solid Big 12 team? Certainly.
Going 5-7 and 12-2, however, wasn't quite what anybody had in mind. Missouri has been a complete wildcard in its brief SEC stay, and this year could go in any number of directions.
No matter what you feel is realistic for Missouri in 2014, the key is simple: win at home. South Dakota State, UCF, Indiana, Georgia, Vanderbilt, Kentucky, and Arkansas visit newly renovated Faurot Field this fall, and while there could be five bowl teams in that mix, six of seven are projected lower than Missouri. Win six or seven of those games, and you've exceeded 2012's floor. That's not a bad place to start.
In this year's Football Outsiders Almanac 2014, Missouri is projected 20th overall with a likely record of 8-4, a 21 percent chance of going 10-2 or better, and a seven percent chance of going 6-6 or worse. Those are favorable numbers for a team that returns just eight starters, but when you look at the returning playmakers -- the Maty Mauks and Marcus Murphys and Markus Goldens and Braylon Webbs -- it's reasonable.
But the depth here is questionable, and you never know in advance how much of a role your depth will play. Missouri will be toeing a fine line in that regard, but the Tigers aren't too many breaks away from a run at another division title.