Missouri heads into the fall with what looks to be one of the SEC's best defenses. The Tigers also have continuity on the coaching staff, with former defensive coordinator Barry Odom taking over as head coach after Gary Pinkel announced his retirement this past November.
But after going a whole month without a touchdown at one point last season, Mizzou will no doubt be looking to improve on offense, starting with sophomore quarterback Drew Lock. If the Tigers are going to get back to a bowl game in 2016, they will have to win a few key SEC games on the schedule. Luckily, the schedule sets up pretty well.
Here is a look at Missouri’s 12 regular season games, ranked from easiest to toughest:
12. Sept. 24 vs. Delaware State
Delaware State lost its first 10 games in 2015 before knocking off Howard 32-31 in its season finale. There really isn’t anything that jumps off the page to make you think the Hornets will be much better this year. Missouri should be able to get plenty of reps for its younger players in the second half of this game.
11. Sept. 10 vs. Eastern Michigan
Like Delaware State, Eastern Michigan also had only one win last season. But at least the Eagles’ win came on the road against an FBS opponent (Wyoming). Former 4-star quarterback recruit Brogan Roback returns after filling in admirably for Reggie Bell last season, but Eastern Michigan probably won’t have enough of a supporting cast to give Mizzou a game in week two.
10. Oct. 22 vs. Middle Tennessee
Chances are the Tigers will be able to cruise against a couple of their non-conference opponents. However, that likely won’t be the case against Middle Tennessee. The Blue Raiders return plenty of talent from last year’s 7-6 squad that narrowly lost at home to Vanderbilt. This program has proven over the years it isn’t afraid to take on SEC opponents. Missouri may have its hands full against MTSU.
9. Oct. 29 vs. Kentucky
When it comes to the SEC slate, Missouri should have some winnable games at home. Kentucky squeaked by Mizzou last year, 21-13 in Lexington, but the ‘Cats may not match up well this time around. Kentucky’s strength appears to be its offense, but Missouri should be stout on the defensive side once again in 2016. If the Tigers can manage some offense, they will have the advantage in this one.
8. Nov. 12 vs. Vanderbilt
Last year, Missouri and Vanderbilt battled in a defensive struggle (or maybe it was more of an offensive struggle), with the Commodores eventually winning 10-3. Vanderbilt has 12 starters returning under Derek Mason, and a trip to a bowl game is not out of the question for this season. Luckily, the Tigers get to play this one in CoMo.
7. Nov. 5 at South Carolina
South Carolina is rebuilding the roster under new head coach Will Muschamp. The Gamecocks are expected to be improved on defense, but there still just isn’t a lot of talent in the cupboard right now. Mizzou should have a chance to win this game if South Carolina’s offense hasn’t drastically improved. Still, winning at Williams-Brice Stadium will not be an easy task.
6. Sept. 3 at West Virginia
Missouri opens the 2016 season at West Virginia, which could prove to be one of the most difficult road tests on the Tigers’ schedule. For years, teams have feared traveling to Morgantown, where couches burn freely in the streets. West Virginia returns quarterback Skyler Howard and seven other starters on offense. The Mountaineers like to put up points. If Missouri can’t keep pace, this one could get out of hand.
5. Oct. 15 at Florida
The defending SEC East champions lose some key pieces on both sides of the ball heading into the fall, but Florida still looks to be able to compete near the top of the division. Missouri will be coming off a bye week before traveling to The Swamp to take on the Gators. The last time these teams met in Gainesville, Missouri annihilated Florida, 42-13.
4. Nov. 25 vs. Arkansas
If this game were played in September, I would have ranked it behind Florida and probably West Virginia, too. However, under Bret Bielema, the Hogs have proven to be downright scary in November. Arkansas has to replace its quarterback, top two running backs, tight end, and the majority of its powerful offensive line from a year ago. It won’t be easy, but by Thanksgiving weekend, the Razorbacks will probably have it figured out.
3. Sept. 17 vs. Georgia
Georgia has a new head coach for the first time in 15 years and fans are expecting a national championship in the near future. This year’s team has plenty of depth on both sides of the ball to compete with the SEC’s best, although there are some big shoes to fill on defense. Missouri will need to find its rhythm early in order to avoid falling to 0-1 in conference play.