Today we’re looking at Missouri as it attempts to improve upon its middling results in its first season in the SEC.
Coach: Gary Pinkel (163-98-3 career, 90-61 at Missouri)
2012 record: 5-7 (2-6 SEC)
Key losses: DT Sheldon Richardson, WR T.J. Moe, RB Kendial Lawrence, LB Wil Ebner, CB Kip Edwards, OL Elvis Fisher, S Kenronte Walker, LB Zaviar Gooden
Newcomer to watch: Instead of a brand-new player, let’s focus on a returning potential star: running back Henry Josey. Josey missed all of last season after suffering a knee injury 10 games into the 2011 campaign, but he had an outstanding spring and could breathe some life into the Tigers' rushing attack. He was an All-Big 12 pick in 2011, rushing for 1,168 yards and 8.1 yards per carry before the injury.
Biggest games in 2013: Missouri might be 4-0 entering its SEC opener, Oct. 5 at Vanderbilt. But the month of October will likely define the Tigers’ season as they follow the Vandy visit with a trip to Georgia (Oct. 12) and home dates against Florida (Oct. 19) and South Carolina (Oct. 26).
Biggest question mark heading into 2013: Can Missouri play physically enough up front to compete with the SEC’s best? The Tigers dealt with too many injuries last season -- particularly along the offensive line -- and were often overwhelmed at the line of scrimmage as the season progressed. Pinkel’s team has outstanding skill-position talent, but the SEC is a toughness league and Missouri might struggle to rise in the SEC East until its depth and talent up front is sufficient.
Forecast: Multiple BCS computer rankings formulas listed Missouri’s schedule as the nation’s most difficult a season ago, thanks to cross-divisional SEC games against BCS champ Alabama and co-No. 5 Texas A&M, plus Eastern Division matchups with co-No. 5 Georgia, No. 8 South Carolina and No. 9 Florida. It doesn’t look too much easier this fall, but the Tigers at least get to drop Alabama for Ole Miss. And the opening month of games against Murray State, Toledo, at Indiana and Arkansas State should allow Mizzou to get off to a strong start.
With a healthier offensive line and quarterback, a second-year breakout candidate in Green-Beckham and Josey returning to the backfield, the Tigers’ high-tempo offense should be productive. The defense returns six starters from a group that ranked 10th in the SEC in total defense (390.7 YPG) and 11th in scoring defense (28.4 PPG), but losing Richardson to early entry into the NFL draft will make it difficult to improve upon those numbers.
The Tigers dropped three games by a touchdown or less despite all of the injuries last season, so it’s not unreasonable to believe a healthier club can reach bowl eligibility -- as Pinkel’s program had in each of the previous seven seasons before last fall. Missouri still has plenty to prove from a physicality standpoint, however, as Georgia, South Carolina, Alabama and Texas A&M all beat the Tigers by at least three touchdowns last season. But if it can start 4-0 and at least snag a victory or two from teams like Vanderbilt, Kentucky, Ole Miss and Tennessee, the Tigers should go bowling again.