Missouri was a surprise champion of the SEC East in 2014, finishing 12-2 overall and 7-1 in regular season conference play. Despite significant personnel losses, the Tigers are expected to be in the mix for the East Division title once again. Quarterback Maty Mauk is a rising star, and he will be surrounded by a solid group of skill players and a steady offensive line. The defense loses key performers at each level, but players like end Markus Golden are back to ensure there isn’t much of a drop in production in 2014.
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Previewing Missouri's Offense for 2014:
It’s Maty Mauk’s show. The precocious sophomore quarterback filled in for an injured James Franklin and kept Missouri steered toward a stunning SEC East Division title last fall, and with Franklin out of the picture, Mauk takes the reins. He brings to the table confidence and big-play ability. He completed only 51 percent of his passes in 2013, but he averaged nearly 16 yards per completion and threw only two interceptions. And he’s got weapons around him.
Three Missouri running backs rushed for at least 600 yards and 6.0 yards per carry, and while Henry Josey stole the show late in the year, Russell Hansbrough and Marcus Murphy had their share of moments. Josey is off to the pros, but Hansbrough and Murphy return to carry the load for a Missouri running game anchored by a line that improved dramatically last fall. Left tackle Justin Britt is gone, but three starters return up front, including potential all-conference center Evan Boehm.
The Tigers lost receivers Marcus Lucas and L’Damian Washington to graduation but still expected to field a strong corps of pass-catchers. That was until Dorial Green-Beckham, a former five-star recruit, was dismissed from the team in April. DGB’s departure will put more pressure on Bud Sasser and Jimmie Hunt to emerge as primary options in the passing game. They will be joined by a grab bag of rotation candidates. Senior Darius White is a former blue-chipper with one last chance to make an impact. Sophomore Levi Copelin and redshirt freshman J’Mon Moore had some strong moments in spring practice.
Athlon's Cover 2 Podcast previews the Missouri Tigers for 2014:
Order a copy of Athlon's 2014 SEC Preview, which includes an in-depth look at all 14 teams, features and predictions for the upcoming season.Previewing Missouri's Defense for 2014:
Missouri lost a ferocious pair of pass-rushers in Michael Sam and Kony Ealy, but if you were to ask insiders what position might be the biggest strength for the Tiger defense in 2014, the answer would probably be “defensive end.” Markus Golden and Shane Ray return after combining for 11 sacks and 22 tackles for a loss in backup duty. Every defensive tackle from the end-of-year two-deep returns as well. Run support could be an issue at end, however, and it’s possible that tackle Harold Brantley could see time lined up wide on the line.
The line will need to thrive again in 2014 to take pressure off of less proven pieces in the back of the defense. Kentrell Brothers, a 2013 starter at outside linebacker, takes over for hard-hitting Andrew Wilson in the middle. He will be joined by some combination of veterans who have yet to crack the starting lineup or youngsters with potential and minimal proven production.
Meanwhile, an experienced set of safeties, led by longtime starter Braylon Webb, should be able to help in big-play prevention, but there will be a lot of pressure on athletic sophomore cornerbacks Aarion Penton and John Gibson. They are tasked with replacing E.J. Gaines and Randy Ponder.
Previewing Missouri's Specialists for 2014:
Missouri has loads of experience in the special teams units. Murphy was one of the country’s best return men in 2012, and Andrew Baggett made 6-of-8 field goals longer than 40 yards in 2013. They are not without question marks, however; Murphy didn’t make much of an impact last fall, and Baggett fell into a costly slump last October.
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With 12 wins and an East title last fall, Gary Pinkel and his program managed to silence every doubter and answer every lingering question after a tough first season in the SEC. The Tigers face an interesting contradiction in 2014. There is still an abundance of star power, from Mauk on offense to Golden and Ray on defense. But the depth that was so key a year ago has been thinned out quite a bit, and injuries could be particularly costly, as they were in 2012.
Five Reasons Why Athlon Sports is Picking Missouri No. 25:
1. Rising star in quarterback Maty Mauk
Mauk threw for 1,071 yards and 11 touchdowns in limited action last year. Needs to improve on a 51.1 completion percentage.
2. Only four returning starters on defense
Tigers had quality depth last year, but four All-SEC performers need to be replaced on defense.
3. Replacing cornerback E.J. Gaines
Gaines was one of the top cornerbacks in the SEC last year. Can Aarion Penton replace him as the top cover corner in 2014?
4. Can a +16 turnover margin be replicated?
Missouri was +16 in turnover margin last season, including a +12 in SEC play. The +16 number is the best for the Tigers since a +13 in 2007.
5. Tough SEC road schedule
Missouri plays tough road tests at Florida and South Carolina early in the year, as well as swing games against Texas A&M and Tennessee in November.