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2018 SEC Football Season Preview: Missouri Tigers

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Mizzou has one of the nation’s best quarterbacks, but will that matter this year?

NCAA Football: Missouri at Vanderbilt Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

2018 SEASON PREVIEW — MISSOURI

2017 Win-Loss Record: 7-6 (4-4 SEC; lost Texas Bowl)

2017 S&P+ Rankings: 35th (Overall), 14th (Offense), 90th (Defense)


So... last year was kinda weird, huh?

The Missouri Tigers opened the season going 1-5, being woefully uncompetitive in each of the five losses (they lost each by an average of 19 points, and the only reason that number isn’t higher is that Kentucky only beat them by six) and scapegoating firing defensive coordinator Demontie Cross two games into the season. Head coach Barry Odom took over the defensive playcalling and... things got worse.

After Mizzou was picked apart by Georgia in the second week of October, everything turned around for the Tigers. They picked up six cakewalk wins in a row, defeating vaunted out of conference foes Idaho and UConn, before rolling through dilapidated Florida, Tennessee, Vanderbilt, and Arkansas to improve to 7-5 and somehow become bowl eligible. They lost the Texas Bowl to Texas. The punter was the game’s MVP. Seriously.

Despite all of that, Drew Lock was historically good!

Lock set both a conference and school record for passing touchdowns in a season with 44 (to just 13 interceptions), and was named to the All-SEC First Team at the end of the year. Perhaps the craziest thing is Lock had just eight touchdown passes in the first three games, seven of which came in Mizzou’s romping of Missouri State to open the season. If you’re keeping up at home, that means Lock had 35 touchdown passes in the final eight games of the season.

With that in mind, it’s no surprise why Mizzou’s offense was so highly rated in the S&P+. Offense wasn’t at all the problem, as shown by offensive coordinator Josh Huepel leaving Mizzou to accept the UCF head coaching job in the offseason. Who did the Tigers pick to replace him?

Well, uh, more on that later.

The defense was an absolute mess for pretty much the entire season. As noted above, Odom took over the playcalling responsibilities and it was a big mess. Defensive lineman Marcell Frazier was the only Mizzou defensive player named to either All-SEC team.


Head Coach

Barry Odom (11-14 6-10 in two seasons at Mizzou’s coach)

NCAA Football: Idaho at Missouri Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

I know what you’re thinking. On the surface, Odom’s record seems just fine for a Missouri team that probably played a bit over their ceiling under Gary Pinkel. I don’t think that point of view is inherently wrong, but it sure feels like this season is a make or break for Odom. Going into the year with a Heisman hopeful at quarterback means you should be a competitive team, and if Mizzou gets off to any sort of start like last year, they won’t be a competitive team. Odom doesn’t have defensive playcalling duties this year, which is probably for the best, but he and the team may be hamstrung by the fact that they hired DEREK DOOLEY to replace Heupel as Offensive Coordinator.

If you’re reading this right now, you have as much OC experience as Derek Dooley.

I like Odom a lot as a person, but if Mizzou isn’t careful, they’re going to be in the very situation they were just in on the basketball court where they hang on to an alum as head coach for far too long despite poor results both on the field and on the recruiting front (Mizzou has had a bottom two class in the conference in both of Odom’s full cycles).


THE OFFENSE

NCAA Football: Texas Bowl-Texas vs Missouri Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

You already know who will be featured here. Mizzou will run through Lock, as he looks to write a strong final chapter of his college career and gets set to play on Sundays next season.

The good news is, despite the baffling hire at OC, the Tigers return the bulk of the receiving core that helped Lock be so successful last year. J’Mon Moore’s 65 receptions for over 1,000 yards and 10 touchdowns will be missed, but Lock’s three other main targets last season (Johnathon Johnson, Emanuel Hall, and Albert Okwuegbunam) all return. Oregon grad transfer Alex Ofodile returns home to Columbia to join Missouri’s offense, as well.

If you add all of that to the fact that Mizzou returns nearly its entire offensive line and running back core (Ish Witter is gone, but Demarea Crockett was great before his injury and Larry Rountree was very good in Crockett’s place), it’s hard to imagine the offense taking too big of a step back, even with Dooley’s inexperience and general coaching reputation.


THE DEFENSE

NCAA Football: Missouri State at Missouri Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

Well, here’s where the big question mark remains. Did Mizzou do anything to improve on the defensive side of the ball? Well... not particularly.

They still have their standard NFL-caliber defensive lineman in Terry Beckner Jr., but from there... you have a lot of inexperience and youth throughout. Look at the depth chart below. Pay special attention to the secondary. You’ll notice a trend.

The Tigers will have to overcome a lot of inexperience if they want to get to the seven or eight win range, which seems like the ceiling for a team that plays Alabama and Georgia this season, among other talented squads. I’m not saying the defense can’t do it, but taking a defense that struggled last year and not improving it in any noticeable way isn’t great.


SCHEDULE

Week Opponent
Week Opponent
1 UT-Martin
2 Wyoming
3 @ Purdue
4 Georgia
5 Bye
6 @ South Carolina
7 @ Alabama
8 Memphis
9 Kentucky
10 @ Florida
11 Vanderbilt
12 @ Tennessee
13 Arkansas

OUTLOOK/PREDICTION

Let’s get it out of the way right now, Mizzou isn’t going to win the SEC East. That will, once again, be the Georgia Bulldogs.

So, knowing that going into the year, what’s a fair expectation for this team? Well, I think when you have the nation’s best quarterback and you’re returning a lot on offense, you should have high hopes. Unfortunately, Dooley, Odom, and the defensive question marks kind of diminish that hope a bit. I think if I had to put a range of wins on this Mizzou team, it would be somewhere around seven or eight, with a bit of leeway in each direction. We’ll split the difference and call it 7-5 and hope they can snag a surprise win somewhere along the way for a better bowl game.