Doubt Missouri at your own peril. The Tigers weren’t thought to be any kind of prize for the SEC during conference realignment three seasons ago. After two trips to the SEC title game, Missouri has been one of the biggest success stories of conference-to-conference shuffling. A key to that success has been a pass rush that has produced two SEC Defensive Players of the Year. Missouri has won 23 games the last two seasons, but the Tigers will try to continue that momentum while rebuilding the cornerstone of the defense.
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Previewing Missouri’s Offense for 2015:
Maty Mauk is nothing if not resilient: Mizzou’s junior quarterback played his best ball late in games and late in the season. The Missouri offense didn’t dominate, but it did enough to get out of the defense’s way late in the year. Mauk will be asked to raise his game significantly in 2015, however, as his receiving corps is about as green as green can be.
Losing all three starters for the second consecutive season will take a toll on anybody’s receiver depth, and it has left Mizzou with a black hole on an otherwise seasoned two-deep. Returning wideouts have combined for just 10 career catches, five from the “leading” returnee, sophomore Nate Brown. The lack of experience at wideout could mean Mizzou leans more heavily on the tight end position that returns starter Sean Culkin and athletic backups Jason Reese and Kendall Blanton.
If the passing game can avoid becoming a complete liability, the run game could thrive. Senior Russell Hansbrough rushed for 1,084 yards and 10 touchdowns last season; his return will make the loss of all-purpose star Marcus Murphy a bit more palatable.
Meanwhile, an offensive line that struggled early in 2014 jelled and became a strength as the season progressed. Potential All-SEC center Evan Boehm and three-year starter Connor McGovern return, as do three other seniors with starting experience.
Order a copy of Athlon's 2015 SEC Preview, which includes an in-depth look at all 14 teams, features and predictions for the upcoming season.Previewing Missouri’s Defense for 2015:
When defensive coordinator Dave Steckel left to take the head coaching position at Missouri State, Gary Pinkel didn’t have to look far for a replacement. He simply called up former Mizzou assistant Barry Odom, who had spent the last three seasons engineering a dramatic turnaround as Memphis’ defensive coordinator. And for the time being, at least, Pinkel was also able to retain highly regarded defensive line coach Craig Kuligowski.
Kuligowski’s ends will be awfully young, led by sophomore Charles Harris, freshman Walter Brady and junior college recruit Marcel Frazier. But the tackle position could be as strong and deep as it has ever been. Harold Brantley is an exciting weapon on the interior, man-mountain Josh Augusta should be ready for a larger role, and blue-chip freshman Terry Beckner Jr. is expected to quickly carve out a niche in the rotation the moment fall camp begins.
The line is greener than it has been for a while, but this might be the most battle-tested, experienced linebacking corps Pinkel has had at Missouri. Kentrell Brothers and Michael Scherer were steadying forces last fall, taking advantage of the attention blockers had to pay to linemen and combining for 113 solo tackles and 123 assists. Likely strong-side starter Donavin Newsom could become a key attacker in Odom’s aggressive defense.
The return of three experienced cornerbacks and senior safety Ian Simon might give Odom reason to get aggressive in the back of the defense. Kenya Dennis, Aarion Penton and John Gibson give Mizzou an experienced, confident trio of corners, but stalwart strong safety Braylon Webb’s graduation opens up opportunity for peril.
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Previewing Missouri’s Specialists for 2015:
Longtime placekicker and kickoffs specialist Andrew Baggett might take on more duty in 2015. He finished the spring listed as Mizzou’s starting punter, though incoming freshman Corey Fatony will be given an opportunity to unseat him in fall camp. Meanwhile, the Tigers will be looking for two new return men to replace Murphy.
The Tigers boast solid experience at a majority of units on offense and defense, but they are young at defensive end and ultra-young at receiver, where they must replace all three starters for the second straight year. That seems like a lot to overcome in the battle for a third straight SEC East crown, but suddenly you don’t make much money betting against Pinkel.