Barry Odom is quietly and steadily improving Missouri football. The Tigers have increased their win total each of the last three years, going from four in 2016 to seven in '17 and now they are coming off of eight last season.
Things got even better in Columbia in early December when former Clemson starting quarterback Kelly Bryant announced on social media that he was transferring to Missouri. That momentum and enthusiasm hit a speed bump in late January when the NCAA announced sanctions on several Missouri athletic teams following an investigation into academic misconduct. These penalties mean the Tigers football team will not play in a bowl game this coming season.
The school is vigorously appealing the NCAA's ruling but the ramifications have already been felt by the football team and will continue to remain a hot topic until the situation is resolved. With Missouri set to return to the practice field, the hope is that the focus will shift more to what happens on the field then what is transpiring off of it.
3 Storylines to Watch During Missouri's Spring Practice
1. The Bryant era begins
Barring something unforeseen, Kelly Bryant will make his much-anticipated Missouri debut in the spring game on April 13. Bryant is taking over for NFL-bound Drew Lock, who could go in the first round of the upcoming draft. It's not too often you lose a QB the caliber of Lock and replace him with a proven winner at the highest level in Bryant.
In 2017, Bryant helped lead Clemson to a 12-2 record, win the ACC title and earn a spot in the College Football Playoff. Along the way, he was responsible for 3,400 total yards of offense and 24 touchdowns. Bryant's arrival is one of the reasons why Missouri is considered a preseason Top 25 team by many outlets.
2. Kelly's new toys
While Bryant won't have the same weapons he had at Clemson, he's certainly not void of a supporting cast. Bryant will have a reliable target and security blanket in tight end Albert Okwuegbunam, who caught 43 passes for 466 yards and six touchdowns in nine games last season.
Okwuegbunam's availability could be limited or in doubt for the spring as he's recovering from a shoulder injury. But make no mistake about it, when healthy, Okwuegbunam is a force and the 6-foot-5, 255-pounder is a surefire prospect for the 2020 NFL Draft.
3. Staying grounded
A ton of excitement will surround Bryant's arrival, and rightfully so. However, if the Tigers are going to match or exceed last season's eight wins, the offense will need to be able to do more than just rely on Bryant's arm. That's where Larry Rountree III comes into play as the rising junior is coming off a 1,200-yard rushing season with 11 touchdowns on the ground. Rountree is the SEC's second-leading returning rusher, less than 30 yards behind Ke'Shawn Vaughn of Vanderbilt (1,244 vs. 1,216).
— Written by Nick Kayal, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network as a college football and NFL writer. Nick is a Morning Show Host in Nashville on 102.5 The Game. Follow him on Twitter @NickKayal.