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#48 Missouri

Tigers

NATIONAL FORECAST

#48

SEC East PREDICTION

#6

HEAD COACH: Gary Pinkel, 90-61 (12 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Josh Henson | DEF. COORDINATOR: Dave Steckel

OFFENSE

If he can hold off redshirt freshman Maty Mauk, senior James Franklin will enter his third season as the Tigers’ starting quarterback. Franklin suffered through an injury-plagued junior year, prompting coach Gary Pinkel to open up the position to competition in the spring. Mauk appeared capable of leading the offense, and the two-time Gatorade Ohio Player of the Year could end up winning the job if Franklin doesn’t return to form.

The return of tailback Henry Josey could also offer a boost. Josey missed all of last season after shredding his left knee in the 10th game of the 2011 season in which he rushed for 1,168 yards. If Josey isn’t ready to carry the load, Russell Hansbrough might be after playing nine games as a true freshman. Marcus Murphy averaged 5.5 yards per carry in a reserve role in 2012.

Missouri’s receiving corps is loaded with experience, but also with unfulfilled potential. Seniors Marcus Lucas and L’Damian Washington are closing in on 1,000 yards for their careers, and heralded high school recruit Dorial Green-Beckham could be on the cusp of a breakout season after leading the team with five touchdown receptions as a true freshman.

Four starters return on the line from a unit that was hit hard by injuries last season. Evan Boehm started all 12 games as a true freshman and is moving from guard to center this season in an effort to rectify snapping issues that plagued the Tigers in ’12. 



DEFENSE

It’s hard to imagine a unit that ranked 10th in the SEC getting much better now that All-SEC lineman Sheldon Richardson left early for the NFL. A good amount of playing experience returns on the line and in the secondary, but the experience wasn’t all that great for a defense that accumulated only 21 sacks, seven interceptions and allowed an average of 5.5 yards on each snap.

Entering his second season as a starter, junior end Kony Ealy needs to emerge as a disruptive force. Four players return with starting experience from a secondary that allowed 44 pass plays of 20 yards or more. Cornerback E.J. Gaines is the best of a mediocre bunch. In two years as a starter, he’s broken up 27 passes but has only three interceptions.

Middle linebacker Andrew Wilson will be looking to lead the team in tackles for a third consecutive year, but his 23 career starts represent the bulk of the Tigers’ linebacker experience.

SPECIALISTS

Murphy is back after scoring four touchdowns on returns, including three on punts. Andrew Baggett is the incumbent at kicker, but he did miss four extra points in his first year on the job. The punting position was wide open during spring drills, with a couple of walk-ons vying to replace Trey Barrow’s steady two-year production.

FINAL ANALYSIS

Missouri’s first year in the SEC was rife with change, and it wasn’t for the better as the Tigers suffered their first losing season since 2004. The changes continued in the offseason with the abrupt resignation of offensive coordinator David Yost, a longtime Pinkel assistant. Former offensive line coach Josh Henson is now in charge of a Missouri attack that found life in the SEC to be more physical — and low scoring — than the Big 12. 

As Pinkel enters his 13th year at Missouri, faith in the Tigers boss could be floundering. The Tigers haven’t suffered back-to-back losing seasons since Pinkel’s first two years in Columbia, but their transition to the SEC was hardly smooth. After a clear step back in 2012, Missouri needs to move forward in 2013 or be left in the dust by their new conference foes.




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#44 Northern Illinois

Huskies

NATIONAL FORECAST

#44

MAC West PREDICTION

#1

HEAD COACH: Rod Carey, 0-1 (First Year) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Bob Cole | DEF. COORDINATOR: Jay Niemann

OFFENSE

Northern Illinois opened the 2012 campaign with question marks at quarterback, offensive line and running back. Jordan Lynch had thrown for under 200 career yards and had to deal with five new offensive line starters and no proven running back.

All Lynch did was set a new FBS single-season rushing record for a quarterback with 1,815 yards, pass for 3,138 yards with 25 touchdowns and just six interceptions, and compile a whopping 4,953 total yards en route to finishing seventh in the Heisman Trophy voting.

Lynch returns for his senior season with motivation to prove that his 2012 numbers weren’t a fluke and to silence his critics after a frustrating Orange Bowl performance against Florida State. Lynch worked on his footwork, not getting too amped up for big games and expanding his knowledge of the playbook.

The offensive line was the most overlooked aspect of NIU’s success last year. The entire line returns, with left tackle Tyler Loos expected to be healthy for the opener at Iowa after missing the last three games with a broken tibia.

Besides Lynch, the Huskies don’t have an explosive runner on the roster. Senior tailback Akeem Daniels showed promise with a strong showing late last season. Lynch must identify another set of wide receivers after losing his best weapons — dynamic Martel Moore and dependable Perez Ashford. Tommylee Lewis and Da’Ron Brown both have potential to emerge into go-to receivers. 



DEFENSE

The heart of a defense that got lost in the shuffle last season behind the highlight-reel offense is mostly gone. The senior-laden group did the dirty work and allowed a scant 19.9 points per game. Eight starters must be replaced, with three of the top four sack leaders departed.

The front seven is filled with potential but is young and has very little game experience. Defensive end George Rainey and tackle Ken Bishop are expected to pick up the production and leadership.

Junior Jamaal Bass will get an opportunity to fulfill his vast potential at linebacker with the loss of Tyrone Clark and Victor Jacques. Jimmie Ward, a first-team All-MAC safety in 2012, anchors what should be a solid secondary. Cornerbacks Sean Evans and Marlon Moore both showed promise last year.

SPECIALISTS

Senior Mathew Sims is a clutch kicker who might get an opportunity to showcase his leg more this season. The punting job is wide open, but there are several capable candidates. Lewis is an electric kick returner capable of changing the momentum of a game.

FINAL ANALYSIS

New coach Rod Carey inherits a program with a fan base thirsting to follow in the footsteps of BCS crashers Boise State and TCU. Expectations have reached unreal levels at Northern Illinois after three straight seasons with at least 11 wins, five consecutive bowl appearances — including last year’s Orange Bowl — and two MAC championships in a row. The 2012 season was a perfect combination of a favorable schedule, weakened conference and some key late developments — most beyond NIU’s control — that allowed the Huskies to elbow their way into a BCS bowl.

The offense faces a new set of questions in 2013. Opponents won’t be caught off guard after spending the offseason game-planning to stop Lynch. The success of the season might hinge on NIU finding playmakers to take pressure off of their record-setting quarterback. There’s also the question about Carey’s ability to handle the transition from assistant coach to CEO at what is now a high-pressured job.

The pieces are in place for a third straight MAC title, but it won’t be as easy as many NIU fans envision.




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#43 BYU

Cougars

NATIONAL FORECAST

#43

Independent PREDICTION

#2

HEAD COACH: Bronco Mendenhall, 74-29 (8 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Robert Anae | DEF. COORDINATOR: Nick Howell

OFFENSE

BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall overhauled his entire offensive staff following a disappointing performance in 2012, rehiring former coordinator Robert Anae, who had been at Arizona the past two years, and adding four new assistants.

Quarterback Taysom Hill’s freshman season ended when he sustained a major knee injury in the late stages of a victory over Utah State in early October, when a miscommunication resulted in a standard running play, rather than a kneel-down. That episode fit into BYU’s season of quarterbacking controversy, as three players started at least two games each. Two of those players graduated. In his two starts in 2012, Hill proved to be a capable passer and runner who should thrive in the fast-paced scheme that Anae learned from coach Rich Rodriguez at Arizona.

Hill’s chances of success improved when Cody Hoffman chose to remain at BYU for his senior season. Hoffman, who’s 6'4" and adept at catching the ball in traffic, ranked 10th in the country with 100 catches for 1,248 yards and 11 touchdowns.

A midseason injury to starter Michael Alisa gave running back Jamaal Williams a greater opportunity as a freshman, and he took advantage of it. Williams rushed for 775 yards and 12 touchdowns while also showing good receiving skills.

Questions remain about the offensive line, with four junior college transfers joining the team in August. Left tackle Ryker Mathews will anchor the line after starting 13 games as a freshman. 



DEFENSE

At this time last year, nobody figured that replacing Ezekiel “Ziggy” Ansah would be the BYU defense’s biggest issue in 2013. Only when Eathyn Manumaleuna was injured in the middle of the season did Ansah become a starter and develop into one of the NFL’s most intriguing prospects. Ansah helped BYU’s defense rank No. 3 in the country, allowing 266.1 yards per game.

Like Hoffman on offense, Kyle Van Noy improved BYU’s defensive outlook tremendously by returning for his senior season. He recorded 13 sacks and 22 tackles for a loss as a junior.

BYU expected junior college transfer Trenton Trammell to solidify its secondary, but he was lost for the season to a knee injury on the first day of spring drills. Jordan Johnson, who broke up 15 passes in 2012, is entrenched at the other corner. BYU’s safeties are outstanding. Daniel Sorensen ranked second on the team in tackles, while intercepting three passes and forcing two fumbles. Craig Bills, known for his aggressiveness, emerged in the second half of the season. 

SPECIALISTS

BYU’s longest successful field goal was only 35 yards in 2012. Justin Sorensen was bothered by injuries and made only 6-of-12 field goals. He expects to be healthy and have a much better senior season. The Cougars must replace star punter Riley Stephenson. Scott Arellano, who averaged 40.6 yards in junior college, won the job in the spring. JD Falslev is an outstanding return man. He averaged 26.0 yards on kickoff returns and 9.5 yards on punt returns. 

FINAL ANALYSIS

Staging a slideshow to illustrate his points, Mendenhall outlined BYU’s success on and off the field in his first eight seasons with a Signing Day news conference that served as an impassioned defense of his program. Of course, BYU’s most pressing issue is upgrading the offense. Its ineffectiveness kept the Cougars from capitalizing on the best defensive performance in school history.

Matching last season’s 8–5 record will be a challenge in 2013, even if Anae’s fast-tempo offense is more productive. The Cougars are facing what Mendenhall labels their toughest schedule ever, with home games against Boise State and Texas and visits to Wisconsin and Notre Dame. 




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