Missouri may need some warmup time in 2016 after losing one of the most successful coaches in program history last winter. Instead of a cupcake non-conference matchup, however, they'll travel back to the Big 12 for a showdown against West Virginia.
The Mountaineers will try to crack one of the NCAA's toughest defenses in the season opener. Mizzou ranked in the top six in both scoring and total defense last fall. However, the Tigers have to play without defensive linemen Harold Brantley and Walter Brady, who were dismissed from the program this summer. Brady recorded seven sacks and 12.5 tackles for loss last season, while Brantley had tallied five in 2014 before sitting out 2015. Neither will be easy to replace.
West Virginia will also be playing with some urgency on Saturday. Head coach Dana Holgorsen has seen bursts of effectiveness as a head coach and is a respected figure for his community service in the state, but his team has averaged only 6.5 wins per season after an impressive 10-win campaign in 2011. He may need a big showing this fall to keep his seat from overheating, and a win against an SEC opponent would be a good start.
New Missouri coach Barry Odom doesn't have to worry about getting fired in his first season, but he can raise expectations around his program by pulling off the upset in Week 1. The Tigers are a two-possession underdog on Saturday, but a victory in Morgantown would put them back on the path to a postseason bid. A tough SEC schedule looms, so Missouri needs all the non-conference help it can get.
How to watch, stream and listen
TV: 12 p.m. ET, FS1
Online streaming: FoxSportsGo
Spread: West Virginia opened as an 11.5-point favorite, but that line has crept smaller.
Three big things to know
1. Can West Virginia shake the yips that kept them from closing out games in 2015? The Mountaineer offense was exceptional at times last season, but the vast majority of those times took place in the first 45 minutes of the game. Here's how Bill Connelly broke down WVU's struggles: "In the first 45 minutes, quarterback Skyler Howard produced a completion rate of 58 percent, an interception rate of 3.1 percent, and a passer rating of 150.1. Fourth quarter: 41 percent, 4.9 percent, and 73.5, respectively. Yuck."
2. Will the Tiger defense remain dominant with a new head coach and no Kentrell Brothers? Brothers was the centerpiece of a Mizzou front seven that gave quarterbacks no quarter and pushed offensive linemen back into their own tailbacks with aggression. He tallied 152 tackles last season, but he'll be playing football for the Minnesota Vikings this fall. Without Brothers, Brady and Brantley, Missouri will have some work to do up front. We'll see if Barry Odom is up for the job on Saturday.
3. Have defenses figured out Dana Holgorsen's aerial attack? Since Holgo took took in 2011, here's how the Mountaineers have ranked in per-game scoring: 13th, 9th, 79th, 36th, 35th. Some of the blame for that drop can be chalked up to inconsistent quarterback play after Geno Smith's departure, but the question remains: can West Virginia be the high-flying team their head coach wants them to be without a second-round draft pick behind center?