A look back at the 2012 campaign for those teams who are keeping their head coaches. Kicking off with one of the conference's newest members
Broadly speaking, there were two types of teams in the SEC this year: Those that fired or otherwise parted ways with their head coaches, and those that went to the postseason. (Strike the two Mississippi schools from the group and you can go with those that fired their coaches and those that won at least nine games.) But there was one notable exception to that rule: Missouri, which missed the bowl season at 5-7 but kept Gary Pinkel on for the Tigers' second year in the SEC.
To an extent, that's not a surprise. Despite the losing record, Pinkel's team never really resembled the massive tire fires that were Arkansas, Auburn, Kentucky and Tennessee. And, in fact, Missouri beat Kentucky and Tennessee, the only members of the fumbling four that the Tigers faced.
As a matter of fact, Missouri's newness might have been one of the factors that hurt the Tigers this year. Eager to give the fans of the expansion teams a taste of SEC tradition, the conference arranged for both Missouri and Texas A&M to play the traditional championship game-era power from the other division, meaning that the Tigers missed a chance to play a team like Arkansas or Auburn and instead had to play Alabama. (Having to go to Texas A&M for the third year in a row probably didn't help.)
The thing that unquestionably hurt Missouri was roster attrition. Nine of the projected starters listed on the pre-fall depth chart missed at least one game in 2012. Henry Josey, the first-string All-Big 12 running back in 2011, missed the entire season, as did left guard Travis Ruth.
Indeed, the entire projected starting offensive line missed at least one game in 2012 -- which likely had something to do with Missouri giving up 2.4 sacks a game and rushing for just 138.5 yards a game, 12th in the conference. At different points of the season, some offensive linemen were shifted to other positions to minimize the damage. With right tackle Justin Britt missing the final three games of the season and backup Taylor Chappell also out, Missouri shifted Mitch Morse from center to right tackle and had Morse's backup, Brad McNulty, playing center. Right guard Jack Meiners missed seven games.
Other players who missed at least one game include starting quarterback James Franklin (three games, played against Kentucky but did not start); linebacker Zaviar Gooden (two games); and defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson, who was benched for the Syracuse game because of the dreaded violation of team rules.
So, in retrospect, some rough sledding was to be expected. Perhaps not 21-point blowouts against Georgia and at South Carolina or a 32-point loss to Alabama, but difficult games are bound to happen when starters miss a total of 44 games -- or more, if you choose to include players who played out of their normal positions because of the shuffling along the offensive line. If you're looking for the reason that Gary Pinkel wasn't pushed out, in addition to the fact that he is third-winningest coach in the program's history, that's it.
That leads to the silver lining for Missouri: As Rock M Nation pointed out near the end of the season, the Tigers could actually benefit in 2013 from the injuries this year. Emphasis on could. As Bill C. said:
it's easy to get starry-eyed about drastic improvement in 2013. Getting too starry-eyed about anything typically leads to disappointment, however, so we'll conservatively say that Mizzou could have the pieces in place to at least return to 2011 levels of competence next fall.
How much that means in what is looking like a tough SEC East -- even if it's not as tough as the SEC West -- is anyone's guess. But it might be enough to get out of the murky middle of the SEC, and probably for the better.