May 29, 2024

Is Missouri the most slept-on team in the SEC East?

COLUMBIA, MO - SEPTEMBER 10: Head coach Barry Odom of the Missouri Tigers during player warm-ups prior to the start of the game against the Eastern Michigan Eagles at Faurot Field/Memorial Stadium on September 10, 2016 in Columbia, Missouri. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

There hasn’t been much buzz about a program that finished with back-to-back winning seasons and return key pieces to an offense that was one of the SEC’s best and averaged nearly 37 points per game.

Although Missouri lost it’s No. 2 all-time leader in passing yards and touchdowns in Drew Lock, the quarterback position will continue to be a strength. The arrival of Clemson transfer Kelly Bryant brings instant credibility to the Tigers after he threw for 3,311 yards and 16 touchdowns with his home state team.

It’s all perfect timing for Barry Odom as he enters his fourth season with his alma mater. Missouri hasn’t clinched the SEC East since 2014 and Odom has yet to finish conference play with a winning record. However, the team has the talent and favorable schedule to navigate through this upcoming season with a lot of success.

Missouri has had a solid backfield every year of Odom’s tenure with three-straight 1,000-yard rushers. Bryant will be handing the ball off to Larry Roundtree III, who has 1,919 yards on the ground and 17 touchdowns the past two seasons. He’s also the SEC’s second leading returning rusher and steamrolled Oklahoma State’s defense for 204 yards in the Liberty Bowl.

Despite the loss of Emanuel Hall, who led the team in receiving yards last season, the Tigers return some talented receivers in Johnathon Johnson and Jalen Knox. The duo combined for 86 receptions, 1,156 receiving yards and eight touchdown catches. Not to mention Albert Okwuegbunam hauled in 43 passes from his tight end position. His six touchdown grabs tied for a team-best, despite playing in only nine games.

The offensive line returns three starters, including two seniors to a unit that allowed an SEC-best, 13 sacks last season. With all the experience and production returning to the Tigers they have the potential to finish in the Top-15 in total offense for a fourth year in a row.

On the defensive side of the ball Missouri needs to make drastic improvements, especially in the secondary. The Tigers finished dead last in the SEC and 112th nationally in pass defense. Senior corner DeMarkus Acy returns after intercepting three passes last season, including two in the win over Tennessee and earned second team All-SEC honors.

The Tigers’ defense will have to do a better job at getting pressure on the quarterback in order to decrease the yards the unit allowed through the air. That task will likely fall in the hands of senior linebacker Cale Garrett. He’s the leader of Missouri’s front seven, who led the team in tackles last season with 112 stops and earned second team All-SEC honors.

The Tigers should be solid on special teams this fall with the return of Tucker McCann. The senior kicker made 24 field goals and finished second in the SEC in scoring last season.

Missouri opens up the season on the road at Wyoming, but play its next five games at home. Besides a road trip to Georgia, every game on the schedule is winnable. Odom could potentially be primed for his best season in Columbia, which speaks volumes of where he has the program headed.