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1. Okay ... now what?
Full disclosure: I've been wrong about Missouri for three straight seasons.
I run Rock M Nation, SB Nation's Tigers site. I was maintaining spreadsheets about Mizzou long before I dived into the rest of the country's rosters. I was a Mizzou blogger well before I was a college football writer. And I've been whiffing on the Tigers for a while.
I expected six or seven wins in 2012, and they went 5-7. I expected six or seven wins in 2013, and they went 12-2. I expected eight or nine wins in 2014, and they went 11-3.
I know all the right Missouri questions to ask, but I don't come close to the right answers. My solace: nobody else has either.
Missouri's three seasons in the SEC have seen one of Gary Pinkel's biggest failures and two of his greatest successes. After four top-25 Off. S&P+ finishes from 2007-11, his 2012 offense got wrecked by injury and fell to 65th. A top-20 defense couldn't save the Tigers from the hardest schedule in the country, and they missed a bowl for the first time in eight years.
Placed on the hot seat by every writer in the country, Pinkel responded. With no wholesale changes to personnel on either the staff or the two-deep, Mizzou improved to seventh on offense. Combined with another good defense, Mizzou won the SEC East and finished fourth in the polls and fifth in the F/+ rankings.
Last year was probably Pinkel's greatest in-season coaching job yet. Tasked with replacing the starting quarterback, running back, left tackle, and all three receivers, Mizzou suffered a couple of key injuries at receiver, forgot how to pass for a while, and ranked 47th in Off. S&P+. The defense dominated despite losing two top ends, and after a midseason lull, Mizzou leaned on the run, slowed the game down for the D, won six in a row, and took the East again.
This offseason, we've seen a funny trend of analysts trying to have it both ways. Any preview you read is almost assured of featuring two sentiments: (1.) "It's time we stop underestimating this program," and (2.) "I'm picking Mizzou third/fourth in the East behind Tennessee and possibly Florida." The comedy comes in the contradiction, as the Tigers are getting rated behind a Tennessee team that has again beaten them in recruiting but has yet to beat them on the field in three years.
But the thought isn't hard to understand. Mizzou has to again replace most of its receivers, its starting left tackle, and two more all-world defensive ends. Add the loss of defensive coordinator Dave Steckel (now Missouri State's head coach) and a potential all-SEC defensive tackle, Harold Brantley (injured in a summer car accident), and you've got a team that will be reliant on a load of freshmen and sophomores.
Let's put it this way: if Missouri wins the East this year, nobody has any excuse for picking them somewhere other than first in 2016 ... and maybe 2017, too.
Pinkel made a great coordinator hire by bringing Barry Odom up from Memphis, and the Tigers return plenty of exciting talent. But the distribution of said talent should make for a very different squad, one even more reliant on the run game and using its back seven to generate pressure. This should be a decent team, and the schedule does set up nicely: the Tigers play only four projected top-25 opponents, three in the final month, when the defensive line and receiving corps will have likely matured.
But ... surely Mizzou won't win again, right?
2014 Schedule & Results
|Record: 11-3 | Adj. Record: 12-2 | Final F/+ Rk: 20|
|Date||Opponent||Opp. F/+ Rk||Score||W-L||Percentile
|30-Aug||South Dakota State||N/A||38-18||W||81%||20.1||99%|
|27-Sep||at South Carolina||38||21-20||W||58%||4.5||41%|
|15-Nov||at Texas A&M||42||34-27||W||73%||14.6||57%|
|Points Per Game||27.8||73||21.1||19|
The tailspin was quick. Through three non-conference games (two mid-major bowl teams and a South Dakota State that ranked next to Northwestern in the Sagarin ratings), Mizzou was answering every question. The offense thrived against SDSU and Toledo, and after allowing a 75-yard run on the first play of the season, the defense allowed just 4.6 yards per play. Maty Mauk's passer rating was well over 175 with his new receiving corps. The new defensive line looked even better than the last defensive line. It was all working.
And then Mizzou lost to Indiana. Star end Markus Golden got hurt, Tevin Coleman went crazy in the second half, Mizzou mismanaged the final minute of the clock, and IU pulled a stunner.
Then, with two of three starting receivers hurt and opponents catching on to the "two reads, then scramble" routine, Mauk completed 27 of 73 passes with no touchdowns and five picks against South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida.
- Average Percentile Performance (first 3 games): 91% (~top 12 | record: 3-0)
- Average Percentile Performance (next 3 games): 43% (~top 75 | record: 1-2)
Following the Georgia game, with some reactionary Mizzou blogger saying the goals were down to "Get to a bowl. That's it," the Tigers reinvented themselves. The offense got a free pass against Florida, staying out of the way behind an incredible four return touchdowns (the superfecta: kick, punt, interception, fumble). Home games against Vanderbilt and Kentucky allowed coordinator Josh Henson to lean on a more efficiency-based offense and Mauk's shoulder, injured against Georgia, to heal up. Given new life following Florida's upset of Georgia, Mizzou won the East.
- Average Percentile Performance (last 8 games): 75% (~top 30 | record: 7-1)
Mizzou rushed for 335 in a win over Texas A&M, averaged 5.9 yards per play against an excellent Tennessee defense, and put up 423 while controlling the second half against Arkansas. The Tigers closed games well and closed the regular season with aplomb. They still needed help to win the East, but they did what they needed to do.
|FIVE FACTORS -- OFFENSE|
|Raw Category||Rk||Opp. Adj. Category||Rk|
|EFFICIENCY||Succ. Rt.||40.7%||76||Succ. Rt. +||100.7||68|
|FIELD POSITION||Def. Avg. FP||29.6||66||Def. FP+||104.0||26|
|FINISHING DRIVES||Pts. Per Trip in 40||4.6||45||Redzone S&P+||102.6||59|
|Q1 Rk||79||1st Down Rk||58|
|Q2 Rk||63||2nd Down Rk||60|
|Q3 Rk||68||3rd Down Rk||72|
Note: players in bold below are 2015 returnees. Players in italics are questionable with injury/suspension.
|Maty Mauk||6'0, 195||Jr.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8964||221||414||2648||25||13||53.4%||23||5.3%||5.7|
|Eddie Printz||6'3, 205||So.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8609|
|Corbin Berkstresser||6'3, 220||Sr.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8600|
|Marvin Zanders||6'1, 185||RSFr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8169|
|Drew Lock||6'4, 205||Fr.||4 stars (5.8)||0.9535|
3. You are what you are
Mauk is a closer. He made huge throws in the late wins over Tennessee and Arkansas, and he was strangely brilliant in the fourth quarter of games last season.
- Mauk (first 3 quarters): 52% completion rate, 11.3 yards per completion, 5% TD rate, 4% INT rate
- Mauk (fourth quarter): 58% completion rate, 14.4 yards per completion, 11% TD rate, 0% INT rate
When you've got what Mizzou had, you can win with that. Mauk was inefficient, and he was a slow starter; more than half of his 13 INTs came in the opening frame. But the Tigers had Russell Hansbrough and Marcus Murphy (combined: 2,008 rushing yards) and a defense that could define the game. Make the game winnable heading into the fourth quarter, wear the opponent down, then throw over the top to win.
By the time you're a junior, you are what you are. You can improve, but your DNA is firmly in place. Mauk isn't going to become a 70 percent passer, a world-class game manager, or a first-team all-conference selection. He is a Kenny Stabler type*, a scrambler and a gambler, in an era of Marcus Mariotas. He's fun and maddening, but he showed he'll make the plays he needs to make.
The question is obvious: will his supporting cast give him that chance this time?
* Stabler did complete 59 percent of his passes in college. That is a mark Mauk can dream of hitting.
|Russell Hansbrough||TB||5'9, 195||Sr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8721||205||1084||10||5.3||6.7||36.1%||1||0|
|Maty Mauk||QB||6'0, 195||Jr.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8964||85||546||2||6.4||4.7||55.3%||3||1|
|Ish Witter||TB||5'10, 190||So.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8463||27||101||1||3.7||2.6||40.7%||0||0|
|Trevon Walters||TB||5'10, 200||RSFr.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8540|
|Chase Abbington||TB||6'2, 215||So.||4 stars (5.8)||0.8903|
|Marquise Doherty||TB||6'1, 205||Fr.||4 stars (5.8)||0.8786|
|Ryan Williams||TB||6'0, 180||Fr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8578|
4. Prepare for a heavy load
In the first seven games, Hansbrough and Murphy combined to average 23.9 carries per game and 5.1 yards per carry. In the last seven, they averaged 30.7 and 5.3. The offensive line was in flux and ineffective early, but it began to gel, and Mizzou crafted a run-heavy identity.
Mauk's legs played a role. Though scrambling often gets him into trouble, he's got speed when turning upfield. While a new receiving corps breaks in, don't be surprised to see him run.
The line returns five seniors with starting experience (97 career starts), including three-year starter Evan Boehm and utility guy Connor McGovern, the strongest player on the team, who will likely move to left tackle after time at both right guard and right tackle. In Murphy's absence, Hansbrough will likely be given as large a load as he can handle.
Mizzou's offense was far too inefficient, and that went beyond Mauk's 53 percent completion rate. Hansbrough could get caught dancing in the backfield. Among the 45 FBS running backs with at least 200 carries, he ranked 13th in highlight yards per opportunity (explosiveness), but he was 33rd in opportunity rate (percentage of carries gaining at least five yards). And one iffy carry would beget another one. In 14 games last season, he averaged 4.3 or fewer yards per carry five times and 6.3 or more four times.
Mizzou's line stats told a tale. The Tigers ranked 15th in power success rate and 107th in stuff rate. They got a push when they needed to but sprang leaks. That can't happen as much in 2015.
|Rivals||247 Comp.||Targets||Catches||Yards||Catch Rate||Target
|Sean Culkin||TE||6'6, 245||Jr.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8641||45||20||174||44.4%||11.5%||60.0%||3.9||-88||3.9||21.2|
|Russell Hansbrough||TB||5'9, 195||Sr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8721||20||11||58||55.0%||5.1%||40.0%||2.9||-79||4.1||7.1|
|Wesley Leftwich||WR||6'1, 205||Sr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8307||10||3||36||30.0%||2.6%||60.0%||3.6||-8||3.5||4.4|
|Nate Brown||WR||6'3, 205||So.||4 stars (5.8)||0.8922||7||5||45||71.4%||1.8%||100.0%||6.4||-14||N/A||5.5|
|J'Mon Moore||WR||6'3, 190||So.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8653||6||2||33||33.3%||1.5%||50.0%||5.5||5||5.5||4.0|
|Jason Reese||TE||6'5, 250||So.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8376||3||1||12||33.3%||0.8%||66.7%||4.0||-2||3.5||1.5|
|Clayton Echard||TE||6'4, 255||Sr.||NR||NR|
|Eric Laurent||WR||6'3, 215||Jr.||NR||NR|
|Raymond Wingo||WR||5'11, 175||RSFr.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8733|
|Desean Blair||WR||6'3, 190||RSFr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8582|
|Kendall Blanton||TE||6'6, 250||RSFr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.8389|
|Thomas Richard||WR||6'1, 190||RSFr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8372|
|Keyon Dilosa||WR||6'3, 200||RSFr.||2 stars (5.3)||0.8141|
|Johnathon Johnson||WR||5'10, 175||Fr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8615|
|Emanuel Hall||WR||6'3, 200||Fr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8498|
5. A blank slate of a receiving corps
Consistency in the run game -- from Hansbrough, Mauk, and an intriguing set of backups -- will be vital, as you don't know what you might get from the pass. Never mind Mauk's inconsistencies. He's going to be throwing to freshmen and sophomores.
You're almost never going to see a receiving corps less experienced. Mizzou has double-dipped in the rebuild, losing all three starters after 2013 and again after 2014, and now Nate Brown is the Tigers' career catches leader at wideout, with five.
Brown was a four-star recruit and has impressive upside. Other options, like J'Mon Moore, Ray Wingo (a converted cornerback), and Desean Blair, have major speed and got reps in the spring. Plus, tight end might be intriguing for a school that used to field dominant tight ends. Athletic sophomore Jason Reese's reps increased late, and redshirt freshman Kendall Blanton could become a red zone target soon.
But Mauk, who waited to see an open receiver before throwing, as opposed to throwing them open, is going to be looking for open guys while those guys are going through growing pains. If the run isn't working, it's hard to see Mizzou winning. There is enough potential in the run game for optimism, but ... no pressure, guys.
|Rivals||247 Comp.||Career Starts||Honors/Notes|
|Evan Boehm||C||6'3, 320||Sr.||4 stars (5.8)||0.9532||40|
|Connor McGovern||LT||6'4, 300||Sr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8222||28|
|Brad McNulty||LG||6'4, 305||Sr.||3 stars (5.5)||NR||15|
|Taylor Chappell||RT||6'5, 305||Sr.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8543||10|
|Mitch Hall||LG||6'5, 310||Sr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8535||4|
|Alec Abeln||C||6'3, 290||So.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8117||0|
|Clay Rhodes||RT||6'5, 280||So.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8720||0|
|Nate Crawford||RT||6'5, 290||So.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8225||0|
|Andy Bauer||LG||6'3, 310||RSFr.||4 stars (5.9)||0.9290|
|Paul Adams||LT||6'6, 290||RSFr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8494|
|Sam Bailey||C||6'4, 265||RSFr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.8019|
|Kevin Pendleton||RG||6'4, 315||RSFr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8335|
|Malik Cuellar||OL||6'5, 300||Jr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8648|
|A.J. Harris||OL||6'4, 285||Fr.||4 stars (5.8)||0.8894|
|FIVE FACTORS -- DEFENSE|
|Raw Category||Rk||Opp. Adj. Category||Rk|
|EFFICIENCY||Succ. Rt.||38.4%||26||Succ. Rt. +||116.5||21|
|FIELD POSITION||Off. Avg. FP||29.4||85||Off. FP+||101.0||51|
|FINISHING DRIVES||Pts. Per Trip in 40||4.1||37||Redzone S&P+||101.9||54|
|Q1 Rk||15||1st Down Rk||15|
|Q2 Rk||17||2nd Down Rk||15|
|Q3 Rk||20||3rd Down Rk||26|
6. A Barry Odom defense
Three years ago, Odom left Pinkel to ply his trade as a coordinator. He joined Justin Fuente's staff at Memphis and set about attempting to rebuild one of the worst defenses in the country. Memphis had ranked 116th and 117th in Def. S&P+ in 2010-11.
In the three years that followed, Odom proved one of the more tactically agile coordinators in the country. Catering to the talent, he figured out ways to attack. Memphis surged to 61st in Def. S&P+ in 2012, then 40th in 2013, then 23rd (only eight spots behind Missouri).
It might not be the worst time for a creative influence on the Missouri defense. As successful as Dave Steckel was -- he ranked between 15th and 31st in Def. S&P+ in each of the last five seasons -- a lot of his success was built around a disruptive front four, a unit that allowed him to combine pressure and disruption with bend-don't-break principles.
Steckel's Tiger defense managed a unique combination, 21st in Havoc Rate but still in the 65th percentile in the Bend Don't Break measure above. Memphis was 28th in Havoc but only in the 31st percentile in bendability. Odom's defense was flexible against the pass but attacked the run, utilizing an athletic set of linebackers and remaining unpredictable. Hugh Freeze, whose Ole Miss offense faced Memphis last year, said Odom was alongside TCU's Gary Patterson in play-calling prowess.
Odom has built an impressive pedigree. At Mizzou, he inherits plenty of athleticism, but it's distributed differently than what we've seen. Missouri might have its best secondary yet under Pinkel and boasts two steady linebackers in Kentrell Brothers and Michael Scherer, the SEC's two leading returning tacklers, but attrition has decimated the line.
|Rivals||247 Comp.||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|Harold Brantley||DT||6'3, 290||Jr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.8220||14||39.0||4.9%||7.0||5.0||0||3||0||0|
|Charles Harris||DE||6'3, 255||So.||2 stars (5.2)||0.7000||14||16.0||2.0%||4.0||2.0||0||2||1||0|
|Josh Augusta||DT||6'4, 345||Jr.||3 stars (5.7)||0.9079||14||15.5||1.9%||3.5||1.0||1||0||1||0|
|Rickey Hatley||NG||6'4, 285||Jr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8413||14||9.0||1.1%||1.0||1.0||0||0||1||0|
|Justin Grava||DE||6'3, 250||Jr.||NR||NR|
|A.J. Logan||DT||6'2, 300||So.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8210|
|Rocel McWilliams||DE||6'2, 240||RSFr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8363|
|Spencer Williams||DE||6'3, 245||RSFr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8241|
|Walter Brady||DE||6'3, 255||RSFr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.7859|
|Marcell Frazier||DE||6'5, 265||So.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8744|
|Terry Beckner Jr.||DT||6'4, 300||Fr.||4 stars (6.0)||0.9918|
|Nate Howard||DE||6'4, 230||Fr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8603|
|Josh Moore||DL||6'5, 260||Fr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8550|
7. Nothing but questions up front
Your expectations of Missouri in 2015 are based on your expectations of Craig Kuligowski, Missouri's line coach, who was named the best in the country by Football Scoop and remained after considering the Illinois coordinator job.
If you assume a Kuligowski line has a high floor, that he could milk production out of walk-ons and high school sophomores, then the experience in Mizzou's back seven could lead to another impressive season.
But holy smokes, does Kul have his work cut out for him. Thanks to the season-ending injuries Brantley suffered in an offseason car accident, Mizzou must replace each of its five leading tacklers on the line. His leading defensive end, Charles Harris, has 16 career tackles, and the rest of the end rotation will feature redshirt freshmen, true freshmen, and a single JUCO transfer (Marcell Frazier).
He still has mountainous Josh Augusta and Rickey Hatley at tackle, and both showed upside. Plus, he's got blue-chipper Terry Beckner Jr. to mold. But this unit is almost as young as the receiving corps. And while Odom should be able to figure out ways to attack with Harris, Beckner, and the linebackers, Mizzou has quite a bit to prove in run defense.
By the way, this is the most Pinkel of lines. Mizzou could start two former two-star recruits, Harris and Walter Brady, sandwiching a former blue-chipper in Beckner. Diamonds in the rough supplementing a few star recruits: it's the Pinkel Way.
|Rivals||247 Comp.||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|Kentrell Brothers||WLB||6'1, 235||Sr.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8568||14||93.0||11.6%||5.0||1.0||0||4||3||0|
|Michael Scherer||MLB||6'3, 230||Jr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8753||14||83.5||10.4%||3.5||0.5||0||1||1||0|
|Donavin Newsom||SLB||6'2, 230||Jr.||3 stars (5.7)||0.9008||14||18.5||2.3%||3.5||0.0||0||1||2||0|
|Clarence Green||SLB||6'0, 225||Sr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8332||14||13.5||1.7%||0.0||0.0||0||0||0||0|
|Eric Beisel||MLB||6'3, 235||So.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8672||13||11.5||1.4%||0.5||0.0||0||0||0||0|
|Joey Burkett||WLB||6'2, 210||So.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8385|
|Brandon Lee||MLB||6'2, 220||RSFr.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8962|
|Grant Jones||SLB||6'3, 225||RSFr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8454|
|Roderick Winters||WLB||5'11, 225||RSFr.||2 stars (5.3)||0.8096|
|Terez Hall||LB||6'2, 215||Fr.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8637|
|Rivals||247 Comp.||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|Kenya Dennis||CB||6'0, 200||Sr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8479||14||55.0||6.9%||4.5||0.5||1||9||1||0|
|Ian Simon||FS||6'0, 195||Sr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8256||14||44.0||5.5%||1||0.5||1||3||1||0|
|Aarion Penton||CB||5'10, 185||Jr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8423||13||29.0||3.6%||2||0||3||10||1||0|
|John Gibson||CB||6'0, 185||Jr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8423||14||24.0||3.0%||1||0||0||4||0||0|
|Thomas Wilson||FS||5'11, 185||So.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8568||13||13.0||1.6%||1||0||0||1||0||0|
|Anthony Sherrils||SS||6'0, 190||So.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8591||14||10.5||1.3%||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Cortland Browning||SS||6'1, 205||Sr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8572||11||3.0||0.4%||0||0||0||1||0||0|
|Logan Cheadle||CB||5'10, 180||So.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8381|
|Tavon Ross||FS||6'0, 200||RSFr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8436|
|Finis Stribling IV||CB||5'11, 175||RSFr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.8029|
|Cam Hilton||DB||6'0, 180||Fr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8569|
|Ronnell Perkins||DB||6'0, 185||Fr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8566|
8. Almost no questions in the back
Mizzou games could be determined by who runs well, because it's possible neither Mizzou nor its opponent will be able to pass.
The Tigers have questions to answer at safety, where sophomores Anthony Sherrils and Thomas Wilson will likely have larger roles in replacing stalwart strong safety Braylon Webb. But this is the best set of cornerbacks Pinkel has had.
Kenya Dennis came on strong late in his first season post-JUCO, and Aarion Penton has been starting for most of his two years. The two combined for 6.5 tackles for loss and 23 passes defensed, and early signs are that Odom will be using these two pretty aggressively. And when he elects to go to a nickel look, either Wilson or veteran corner John Gibson should provide him attacking options.
With a less impressive pass rush and a sophomore as the last line of defense, it's possible that aggression on the edges could backfire. But pass defense is far less of a concern than the ground game.
|Andrew Baggett||6'1, 215||Sr.||75||60.8||40||1||53.3%|
|Nick Coffman||5'11, 170||Jr.||3||42.0||1||0||33.3%|
|Andrew Baggett||6'1, 215||Sr.||43-45||12-14||85.7%||6-11||54.5%|
|Tyler Hunt||KR||5'11, 215||Sr.||4||19.5||0|
|Special Teams F/+||35|
|Field Goal Efficiency||31|
|Punt Return Efficiency||40|
|Kick Return Efficiency||17|
|Opponents' Field Goal Efficiency||89|
9. Replacing Marcus
Andrew Baggett is known mostly for hitting the upright in overtime against South Carolina in 2013, handing Missouri its only regular season loss. But he has shown a big leg, and he was consistent inside of 40 yards last season. His return is a boon for the Tigers, who have a question mark at punter and a huge one in the return game.
Murphy was a solid running back and four-year contributor, but he was a difference maker in the return game. His returns played a vital role in Mizzou coming close to a bowl in 2012, and he scored three touchdowns (two against Florida) in 2014. John Gibson and Aarion Penton will get the first crack at replacing him; they're speedy, but they have a high bar to clear.
2015 Schedule & Projection Factors
|Date||Opponent||Proj. S&P+ Rk|
|12-Sep||at Arkansas State||71|
|Five-Year F/+ Rk||30.9% (18)|
|2- and 5-Year Recruiting Rk||31 / 30|
|2014 TO Margin / Adj. TO Margin*||9 / 10.5|
|2014 TO Luck/Game||-0.5|
|Approx. Ret. Starters (Off. / Def.)||13 (7, 6)|
|2014 Second-order wins (difference)||9.3 (1.7)|
10. A top-20 team could win 10 games
Mizzou's F/+ progression has shown a series of three-year cycles: peak in 2007, drop in 2008-09. Surge in 2010, drop in 2011-12.
Mizzou hit a peak in 2013 before sliding in 2014. That suggests another drop in 2015 before a 2016 surge, and it isn't hard to see that. Mauk is only a junior, and two young units (receiving corps, defensive line) will be seasoned a year from now.
Still, the 2015 Tigers will have a shot at a nice season. Mizzou does return 13 starters and most of last year's second string. The holes are obvious, but this team does not lack for experience. And there is upside in the form of an explosive running back, a senior-laden offensive line, two excellent linebackers, and awesome cornerbacks.
The Football Outsiders Almanac 2015 (available now in PDF, soon in print) projects Mizzou 20th in the country -- second-best in the SEC East and sixth overall in the conference -- and if the Tigers hit that level, there are plenty of wins. Mizzou is given a 33 percent chance of finishing with 10 or more wins and a 45 percent chance of going 6-2 or better in league play. Georgia is the clear favorite in the East, but if the Dawgs slip up again, scheduling might make Mizzou a more dangerous threat than Tennessee.
This projection feels a little bit aggressive. I picture the Tigers more in the No. 30-35 range, which makes something like 7-5 or 8-4 a more distinct possibility. But that's what I end up thinking every year, and in one direction or the other, I tend to be wrong.