It was a tale of two halves for Missouri last season, as a 1-5 train wreck of a start gave way to a six-game winning streak in which points came in bunches. Barry Odom will have a new offensive coordinator this fall, but the same quarterback who will have plenty of weapons to throw to and the possibility of an even more potent running game to complement him. The defense will be strong up the middle but needs some solid contributors to emerge at defensive end and safety. Whether this Tigers team will look more like the one that struggled out of the gate or was clicking on all cylinders late remains to be seen, but there are plenty of reasons to expect more of the latter compared to the former.
Previewing Missouri Football's Offense for 2018
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In late September 2017, Barry Odom was the captain of a sinking ship. Following disheartening losses to Purdue and Auburn, it appeared fair to wonder if Odom would even finish his second year in charge in Columbia. Mizzou began the season 1-5. Six games, six wins and a Texas Bowl bid later, Odom's seat was cool, offensive coordinator Josh Heupel was leaving for the UCF head coaching job, and quarterback Drew Lock was taking his time deciding whether to leave for the NFL or return to Columbia.
Lock waited to make his decision until Odom had made his coordinator replacement: former Tennessee head coach and Dallas Cowboys receivers coach Derek Dooley. Dooley offered a path to merge the worlds of pro-style offense with the run-game-and-deep-balls approach that worked so well over the second half of 2017, and Lock elected to return and improve his draft stock.
If Dooley's play calling is up to snuff, Mizzou returns a lot of weapons for Lock. The Tigers have to replace No. 1 receiver J'Mon Moore but bring back nearly everybody else. Emanuel Hall had 817 yards (at a ridiculous 24.8 yards per catch) and eight TDs despite battling injury. Sophomore Albert Okwuegbunam is a potential all-conference tight end and a massive red zone threat. Slot receiver Johnathon Johnson has 1,159 receiving yards in two years.
The running back duo of Damarea Crockett (1,062 yards in 2016) and Larry Rountree III (703 in 2017, as Crockett battled injury) could be dynamite, and a line that was almost never pushed backward returns every starter. New line coach Brad Davis inherits players who accounted for 61 of last year's 65 starts, including star right tackle Paul Adams.
Previewing Missouri Footbal's Defense for 2018
"D-Line Zou" became the calling card of Gary Pinkel's last few defenses, and tackle Terry Beckner Jr. should make it eight D-linemen drafted in seven years next spring. Finally healthy after two season-ending knee injuries in two seasons, Beckner had 8.5 tackles for a loss during Mizzou's win streak. He will be the anchor for one of the league's best defensive tackle units, one that includes Texas transfer and former blue-chipper Jordan Elliott. The end position, however, appears as thin as the tackle position is loaded.
The linebacking corps is stocked. The trio of Terez Hall, Cale Garrett and Brandon Lee combined for 27.5 TFLs, 4.5 sacks and 10 passes defensed. Defensive coordinator Ryan Walters' attack will utilize the nickel back quite a bit, but Lee is solid enough in pass coverage to make the nickel back a luxury instead of a necessity.
At cornerback, junior DeMarkus Acy and sophomore Adam Sparks return after a down-then-up season, but there's been turnover at safety. Anthony Sherrils graduated, and Kaleb Prewett's status is uncertain after a spring suspension.
Previewing Missouri Football's Specialists for 2018
Special teams went from weakness to strength in 2017. Punter Corey Fatony returns for a fourth year of mostly excellent kicks, placekicker Tucker McCann overcame his freshman yips by making 15-of-17 field goals as a sophomore, and punt returner Richaud Floyd returned two punts for scores and averaged 19.8 yards per return. This should be one of the SEC's better units.
There's just enough turnover to give one pause, but most of the reasons for last year's second-half surge return. That suggests a pretty high floor in a division that features quite a few teams that bottomed out in 2017.