The Tigers rank No. 55 in Athlon's Top 130 for 2017
Missouri won just four games in Barry Odom’s first season as head coach and it could be another tough three months for Tigers fans. The offense has 10 starters returning and should be even better in 2017, but unless a defense that ranked among the nation’s worst in all four major categories takes a significant step forward, the Tigers could miss out on a bowl game for the third straight season.
Previewing Missouri Football’s Offense for 2017
Mizzou’s scoring average improved by nearly 18 points per game in 2016. The combination of experience and new blood — on the two-deep and in the coaching booth — served the Tigers well after woeful scoring averages in Gary Pinkel’s final year in charge.
New head coach Barry Odom handed his offense to coordinator Josh Heupel, and with a depth chart young enough to return almost everybody in 2017, the Tigers began to show promise in an up-tempo spread system. The first year of Heupel’s relationship with quarterback Drew Lock was promising. With a more experienced receiving corps and a couple of new toys at his disposal, Lock threw for 3,399 yards and 23 touchdowns, torching bad defenses early in the season, failing miserably against very strong LSU and Florida defenses midseason and finding a rhythm late.
Lock and receiver J’Mon Moore formed quite the November connection. After falling into a massive midseason funk, Moore caught 23 passes for 407 yards in his last three games. Meanwhile, running back Damarea Crockett, a true freshman, crossed the 1,000-yard mark by rushing for 379 yards combined in the Vanderbilt and Tennessee games. The Arkansas native runs with great vision.
A line that was starting from scratch with career backups, junior college transfers, walk-ons and duct tape should open bigger holes for Crockett, and almost all of Lock’s receiving targets are back as well. Further offensive improvement would not be a surprise.
Previewing Missouri Football’s Defense for 2017
In seven losses in 2015 — many of them by small margins — Mizzou scored a combined 49 points. In 2016, everything flipped. The Tigers scored 45 points against Middle Tennessee — and lost. They scored 37 against Tennessee and lost by 26.
The defense cratered. Young linebackers struggled with missed tackles, and a new read-and-react style of coaching up front did no favors for the defensive line’s skill set.
Odom loosened the reins up front, which should suit end Marcell Frazier well; given more attacking opportunities, Frazier had 6.5 sacks in the last three games. Tackle Terry Beckner Jr. should be healthy, too. The blue-chipper has seen each of his first two seasons end early because of knee injuries. Frazier, Beckner, a new line coach and a host of junior college signees could provide some transformation up front.
Meanwhile, the athletic potential of the linebacking corps seems high. Eric Beisel, Cale Garrett and Brandon Lee combined for 16 tackles for a loss, and nickel back/outside linebacker T.J. Warren brings a former cornerback’s athleticism to the position.
If the line holds up, the biggest question mark becomes cornerback, where Mizzou must replace starters Aarion Penton and John Gibson III. Sophomores DeMarkus Acy and Christian Holmes looked the part in the spring, and if they hold their own, experience at linebacker and safety could pay dividends for a unit that was much worse than expected in 2016.
Previewing Missouri Football’s Specialists for 2017
With Corey Fatony booming punts and kickoffs and Johnathon Johnson returning punts, special teams should be kind to Mizzou’s field position margin. But the placekicking situation is drastically unsettled after Tucker McCann’s freshman struggles in 2016; he missed four PATs and half his field goals.
Missouri games were more high-scoring in 2016, and that was only partially good. The Tigers were better statistically but won one fewer game. Finishing the season with two conference wins in three tries gave the fan base a jolt of optimism, but while a seasoned offense seems to have a high ceiling, the defense has far more questions to answer than it did 12 months ago.