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Missouri Football: 2022 Tigers Season Preview and Prediction

Isaiah McGuire, Missouri Tigers Football

Isaiah McGuire and the Tigers are ranked No. 53 in Athlon Sports' Top 131 for the 2022 college football season

In two years under Eliah Drinkwitz, Missouri has been almost perfectly average. They've won nine straight games against teams that finished with a losing record, and they've lost 11 of 12 against power conference teams that didn't. They've had great and terrible moments on both offense and defense.

Drinkwitz has recruited like gangbusters, signing maybe the most highly ranked class in Mizzou history in 2022. That will obviously buy him time before the pressure begins, but he's still trying to figure out what he's got at the quarterback position; he's working with a third defensive coordinator in three years; and he's facing a schedule with eight teams that went bowling a year ago. Maybe he gets the chess pieces lined up in all the right places this season, but it feels more like another "scratch and claw to get to 6–6" type of year.

Related: Athlon Sports' College Football Top 25 for 2022

Previewing Missouri's Offense for 2022

Safe almost to a fault, Connor Bazelak completed 66 percent of his passes in 21 games under Drinkwitz, but he averaged under 10 yards per completion in 10 of those games and threw only 23 touchdown passes to 17 interceptions. He was only a redshirt sophomore in 2021, and he battled injury, but it was clear when Drinkwitz elected to start backup Brady Cook in the Texas Bowl against Army — Cook went 27-for-34, but at a familiar 8.8 yards per completion — that it was time for something new for both Bazelak and Mizzou.

Bazelak transferred to Indiana, and the Tigers entered 2022 with a blank slate at QB. Cook and another young dual threat, Tyler Macon, battled for the first-string spot in the spring as blue-chip freshman Sam Horn waited to join the race over the summer and Drinkwitz searched through transfer options.

Outside of QB, there's plenty to be excited about. Mizzou returns four starters from a solid line — tackles Javon Foster and Hyrin White (if healthy) are both all-conference candidates. The receiving corps returns explosive senior Tauskie Dove and could quickly reap the dividends of recent recruiting wins. Five-star freshman Luther Burden III joins other former blue-chippers like Dominic Lovett and Mookie Cooper out wide. And while star running back Tyler Badie is gone, backup Elijah Young looked good in the bowl, and transfers Nathaniel Peat (Stanford) and Cody Schrader (a 2,000-yard rusher in Division II) should give Drinkwitz fun options.

There's plenty to like here, but how the QB position develops will determine everything about 2022.

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Previewing Missouri's Defense for 2022

Going back to his lone year at Appalachian State, Drinkwitz has employed four defensive coordinators in four years as a head coach. This time, he's asking 39-year-old Blake Baker to figure things out after Steve Wilks left for the pros after one up-and-down season. Baker is already in his seventh year as a coordinator after four seasons at Louisiana Tech and two at Miami (Fla.), and even though the Tigers ranked 113th in scoring defense last fall, he inherits some exciting pieces.

The Tigers' biggest strengths heading into 2022 appear to be at defensive end and safety. Ends Isaiah McGuire and Trajan Jeffcoat combined for 24 tackles for a loss and 9.5 sacks last fall, and they'll be joined by North Carolina transfer Tyrone Hopper and young blue-chippers like DJ Wesolak and Travion Ford. At safety, Martez Manuel and Jaylon Carlies combined for five interceptions and seven tackles for a loss, while Kris Abrams-Draine did solid work in the slot. Clemson transfer Joseph Charleston had a strong spring, too, which can only help.

There are question marks elsewhere, however. Last year's top three defensive tackles are all gone, which means that senior Darius Robinson (24 tackles last fall) and transfers like Oklahoma State's Jayden Jernigan and Auburn's Ian Mathews could be asked to contribute a lot. The Tigers' top two cornerbacks are also gone, leaving Abrams-Draine, 2020 starter Ennis Rakestraw Jr. (coming back from an ACL tear), sophomore DJ Jackson and redshirt freshman Dreyden Norwood, a Texas A&M transfer, to figure things out. Strong recruiting and heavy use of the transfer portal have given Mizzou options here, but stars must still emerge despite a revolving door on the defensive coaching staff.

In the linebacking corps, seniors Devin Nicholson and Chad Bailey have proven solid if unspectacular; Florida transfer Ty'Ron Hopper could make an immediate impact here.

Related: SEC Football Predictions for 2022

Previewing Missouri's Specialists for 2022

While offense and defense have been inconsistent under Drinkwitz, special teams have been a bright spot. That should remain the case in 2022. Harrison Mevis returns after making 23-of-25 field goals (14-of-16 over 40 yards), while Sean Koetting (46.7 average in six kicks) likely takes over full time at punter. Abrams-Draine is a strong kick return man, but he could get a push from both Peat and blue-chippers like Burden.

Final Analysis

After two seasons of treading water, Drinkwitz is still trying to get things figured out in key areas. Maybe 2022 is the year things come together, but it's far from guaranteed, and the schedule isn't much help; it features road games against Kansas State, Auburn, Florida, South Carolina and Tennessee and visits from Georgia, Kentucky and Arkansas. At some point, recruiting could eventually take root and give the Tigers the depth they need to rise in the SEC East standings, but this feels like another season of hoping for six wins and a bowl game.

National Ranking: 53

Podcast: SEC Megacast Preview and Predictions for 2022