May 29, 2024

Arkansas receiver Jordan Jones gives Missouri defender Marcell Frazier a stiff arm as he runs the ball during the second half of an NCAA college football game Friday, Nov. 24, 2017 in Fayetteville, Ark. (AP Photo/Michael Woods)

Missouri started off last season slow out of the gates, going 1-5 through the first six games. Then a light bulb came on and the team went on a six-game win streak and finished the year at 7-6, giving Barry Odom his first winning season as the Tigers Head Coach. The offense was on fire during the win streak, averaging 51.3 points per game. That unit returns nine starters, including senior quarterback Drew Lock. On defense the Tigers return six starters from a unit that finished 83rd in total defense. In order for Mizzou to take that next step, that side of the ball must improve drastically.

Team strengths: Offensive firepower. The Tigers finished first in the SEC in scoring and total offense, averaging 37.5 points per game and over 500 yards per contest. With the return of Lock, all five starters along the offensive line, the teams’ second leading rusher, two of the top-three receivers and an All-SEC tight end, there is no reason why the offense won’t be more dangerous this fall. Although the team has a new Offensive Coordinator in Derek Dooley, he’s very experienced in the conference and won’t change schemes too much. If it ain’t broke don’t fix it

Team weaknesses: Defensive secondary. Missouri was dead last in the SEC and 104th nationally in pass defense, allowing 254.3 yards per game through the air. Three starters return, but will feature two new safeties and everyone will need to create more turnovers and not miss as many tackles like last year.

Players to watch: Quarterback Lock, wide receiver Emanuel Hall, tight end Albert Okwuegbunam, defensive tackle Terry Beckner and linebacker Cale Garrett. The teams’ captain Lock led the SEC in passing yards and pass touchdowns with 3,964 and 44 scores, which was a conference record and earned him first team All-SEC. His career numbers of 8,695 yards, 71 touchdowns and 31 interceptions shows this kid has a chance to be the the SEC’s Offensive Player of the Year. Hall is the teams’ leading returning receiver with 33 receptions, 817 yards, eight touchdowns and averaged an eye-popping 24.7 yards per catch. Okwuegbunam caught 29 balls for 415 yards and 11 touchdowns last season, earning All-SEC honors. Beckner tallied 38 tackles, including 11 from behind the line of scrimmage, seven sacks and an interception last season. Garrett led the team in tackles in 2017 with 105 stops, including 10 for loss, three sacks and two interceptions.

The schedule: Brutal. Missouri gets Georgia, Kentucky, Vanderbilt and Arkansas at home. The road slate is tough having to travel to Purdue, back-to-back games against South Carolina and Alabama, Florida and Tennessee. The Tigers will be lucky to split those road contests.

My take: This offense is potent enough to put up 40-plus points on some of the best defenses around the country and Lock is also getting some Heisman talk. The defense is what may be a liability for this team. Regardless, Mizzou will be a fun team to watch this fall.