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COLLEGE FOOTBALL PRESEASON TOP 25
SEC East PREDICTION
HEAD COACH: Gary Pinkel, 90-61 (12 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Josh Henson | DEF. COORDINATOR: Dave Steckel
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.
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.
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.
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.