Posted: 12:00 p.m. Monday, April 15, 2013
By Neil Shulman
We continue our post-spring season preview with the third set of Tigers in the SEC. For more on Missouri, head to Rock M Nation.
Starters returning: Seven on offense, seven on defense.
The good: With lots of skill position players returning on offense, the Tigers could put up some points. QB James Franklin returns, but is in a battle for the starting job with Maty Mauk. Also returning are the Tigers' top three wide receivers, L'Damian Washington, Dorial Green-Beckham and Marcus Lucas. Top runner Kendial Lawrence is gone, but Henry Josey is back after missing last season due to injury, and Marcus Murphy, who made a huge impact in the return game a year ago, should be able to pitch in as well. Also, the offensive line returns intact.
Finally, Missouri's special teams is a strength, with Murphy back to handle kicks. Drawing Texas A&M; as their permanent rival from the West isn't good, but the rest of the schedule sets up relatively well for the Tigers: Missouri gets home games against two of the East's best three teams, Florida and South Carolina.
The bad: Missouri's front seven on defense loses their top player at each level. Oh, and that defense gave up more than 30 points six times, and more than 40 four times. That's a bad combination. Aside from linebacker Kentrell Brothers, there hasn't been anything to cheer about on defense this spring. This is a unit that was unceremoniously gashed by the likes of Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee and South Carolina, teams that are all standing miles ahead of the Tigers in the SEC.
The key: Control the clock. The easy way to keep a weak defense off the field is to keep the offense on the field as much as possible. If the Tigers can't put together long, slow, methodical drives on offense, the defense will get gassed.
Key game: Florida. The Tigers were in this game a year ago in The Swamp. This time around, they get the Gators at home. If they can take out mighty Florida, they can make a late push for the SEC East with Tennessee, Kentucky and Mississippi as the close to their schedule.
Somewhat relevant fact: Missouri only trailed after the first quarter in two games last year.
Relevant fact: Missouri was 3-4 at home last year.
Overview: It's tempting to put the Tigers higher. But defense is what wins in the SEC, and as of right now, the Tigers just don't appear to have it. The schedule is about as good as they could have asked for, and the offense could keep them in a lot of games, but when it's all said and done, their defense will fail them again and again. Without Sheldon Richardson, Will Ebner and Zaviar Gooden to anchor their front seven, the Tigers will lose several high scoring games, and thus, never really be in the hunt for the SEC East.
Projection: 7-6 (2-6 SEC), BBVA Compass Bowl Champions.