It’s finally here, the return of football. And being as a recently conformed Anti-NFL fan this is the only game in town. Put the ball on the tee, fire up your grills, get out your jerseys, call up your friends because Saturday’s are full once again with college football!
So what is in store for the local college team, the Missouri Tigers? It was an off-season of change for the Tigers where Barry Odom will roam the sidelines; replacing Gary Pinkel who retired after 15 years in Columbia. I talked about this at the time of his hiring and I still like the decision to go with Odom as head coach. He has already shown that he will be a “no-nonsense” coach. He is moving away from the at time annoying spread formations and said he wants a team that is flexible. One that can work with the talent on the roster and attack what teams are giving them. That will come as a pleasant change of pace considering the abundant number of wide receiver screens the Tigers loved to throw despite not having the players like Jeremy Maclin or Denario Alexander to break the big play.
What we know, or should say are accustomed to, is the Tigers will be led by their defense. They have become a defensively stout team and despite several losses on that side of the ball still have plenty of talent for the next man up mentality. Terry Beckner Jr. showed flashes as a freshman last year, recording 27 tackles with three sacks and earning Freshman All-American honors. Beckner is destined to join the #MizzouMade defensive line alums playing in the NFL. Teaming up with him was last year’s breakout end Charles Harris. The defensive line will once again be the strength of the Tigers. The Tigers also return a super talented defensive back in Aarion Penton. The rest of the defensive backs will be less experienced but with the pressure up front the line should create will only help them in their coverage.The biggest spot without a doubt on defense for the Tigers to replace will be at middle linebacker Kentrell Brothers graduated after seemingly record ever single tackle for the defense last year. But the Tigers have been in this position before. Let’s not forget before Brothers asserted himself he was an inexperienced linebacker replacing leading tackler Andrew Wilson, and before that it was Xaviar Gooden, and before that Sean Weatherspoon. The point is that when you have high pressure players on the defensive line and talent in the secondary, a linebackers job is much easier.
The biggest question mark for the Tigers in 2016 will be if they can rebound from a historically poor offense in 2015. The implosion of Maty Mauk led to the implosion of the offense. They averaged just 13.6 points per game last year and featured an offense that’s main weapon was the field position battle from punter Corey Fatony. The off-season wasn’t particularly kind in losing their most experienced offensive lineman Nate Crawford. But heck it could be a blessing in disguise as the new group of lineman can’t possibly play as bad as last year’s starters. And that is the belief I take on the offense as a whole this year, it can’t possibly be as bad as last year.
Let’s not forget that sophomore quarterback Drew Lock, who sits atop the depth chart as the season begins, was a highly recruited athlete. He has the skills and the arm. He was thrust into a mess of a storm last year; not only with the play calling, lack of protection, and inexperience but also with off the field issues such as Mauk and a “players strike”. Lock will need to find a connection with go to receivers, something that Mizzou has been missing for the last couple of years. This year’s group of wideouts gained experience last year and could get a boost from Alabama transfer Chris Black.
Another transfer figures to make a big impact as well in Oklahoma running back transfer Alex Ross. Ross will provide the explosive speed that Mizzou backs lacked last year and heads up a class that should benefit from an emphasis on power blocking rather than spreads and space. Quick look back at the offensive line and that philosophy, it is much easier to teach “less talented” offensive lineman how to run block than it is to teach them to pass block. It’s all about heart. Not saying the new group of lineman aren’t talented but heart should help overcome some of their inexperience.
As far as records go. It could be a rough year. The Tigers still lack proven difference makers on offense and bring in a new set of coaches. But Coach Odom has some talent to work with and seems to bring a stable mindset that the program needs after last season. Many analysts are calling for anywhere between 4-7 wins for the Tigers. I feel that they will be on that upper end of projections. Given the experience the players gained from last year, an influx of energy from a new coaching staff, and the unlikelihood that the offense can be as historically bad again…I am projecting a 6 win season for Mizzou and a return to a bowl game. The Tigers should of course beat their three non-conference opponents in Eastern Michigan, Delaware State, and Middle Tennessee. I also see them winning against Kentucky, South Carolina, and Vanderbilt. Remember that despite losing seven games last year, the Tigers trailed by more than 10 points at halftime in just two games. They were in nearly every game and that was with a horrid offense. Six wins and a bowl is not out of the question. Let’s Go Tigers. Let’s Hear You Roar!