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2019 SEC Preview: Missouri Tigers

By Matt Smith
SouthernPigskin.com
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Matt Smith breaks down everything you need to know about the 2019 Missouri Tigers.

Head Coach: Barry Odom – fourth year at Missouri and overall (19-19 overall, 10-14 SEC)

Offensive Coordinator: Derek Dooley (second season)

Defensive Coordinator: Ryan Walters (fourth season)

2018 Record: 8-5 (4-4 SEC); lost to Oklahoma State in Liberty Bowl

Returning Starters: 13 (7 offense, 6 defense)

2019 Schedule

Aug. 31 – at Wyoming (7:30 p.m. ET, CBSSN)
Sept. 7 – WEST VIRGINIA (Noon ET, ESPN/ESPN2)
Sept. 14 – SE MISSOURI STATE (7:30 p.m. ET, SEC Network Alt.)
Sept. 21 – SOUTH CAROLINA

Oct. 5 – TROY
Oct. 12 – OLE MISS
Oct. 19 – at Vanderbilt
Oct. 26 – at Kentucky

Nov. 9 – at Georgia
Nov. 16 – FLORIDA
Nov. 23 – TENNESSEE
Nov. 29 – at Arkansas (Little Rock) (2:30 p.m. ET, CBS)

What We Know

-Receivers. Missouri has them. Despite the loss of 2018 top target Emmanuel Hall, the Tigers are still loaded on the outside. They may have the best tight end in the country in Albert Okwuegbunam (he answers to Albert O), a junior who had 43 receptions and six touchdowns as a sophomore. Speedy sophomore Jalen Knox is a big-play threat, having averaged more than 15 yards per catch a year ago. The veteran presence is senior Johnathan Johnson, who primarily works out of the slot and should help Kelly Bryant in the intermediate passing game. Missouri also adds in graduate transfer Jonathan Nance from Arkansas. If healthy, this group is loaded with potential.

-Cornerback is the most experienced position. The problem is that the players with experience haven’t performed at a level for the Tigers to crack the .500 mark in conference play since 2014. Between DeMarkus Acy, Adam Sparks, and Christian Holmes, there are 48 career starts. Youth is no longer an excuse. This group has to perform better and halt the slide in yards per attempt allowed from ninth in the SEC in 2016 to tenth in 2017 to 11th in 2018.

-The offensive line isn’t as experienced as a year ago, but this group will still be an asset. Yasir Durant was a gift from junior college, starting 23 games the past two years and manning the all-important left tackle position. Another pair of third-year starters anchor the inside in center Trystan Colon-Castillo and guard Tre’Vour Wallace-Sims. There will be some competition at left guard and right tackle, but Missouri feels good about what it has to fill the final two holes. The bar is high, as the Tigers haven’t allowed 15 sacks in a season since 2015.

What We Don’t Know

-Will Missouri play in a bowl? That’s still an unknown at this time as they appeal their NCAA penalties for improprieties involving a tutor. Given the NCAA let North Carolina skate after running a fraudulent academic department that catered to athletes, punishing Missouri as excessively as they did for an isolated issue seems ridiculous. The Tigers have a chance to reach a January bowl this year, a major accomplishment for a program without the history of many of the league’s bluebloods, and shouldn’t be denied that opportunity. If they are, don’t expect this team to feel sorry for itself. Odom is a passionate leader who will get the most out of this team regardless of uncontrollable circumstances.

-How will Derek Dooley mesh with Kelly Bryant? There are obvious differences from Drew Lock to Bryant, and the burden falls on the second year offensive coordinator to maximize the dangerous skill set of the quarterback who led Clemson to the No. 1 ranking at the end of the 2017 regular season. Dooley graduated law school. He’s smart enough to figure out how to make it work, but it’s still a mystery regarding what it will look like. The downfield passing game won’t be as prolific, but Bryant is an underrated passer. With the Dallas Cowboys, Dooley witnessed the successful transition from statuesque Tony Romo to nimble Dak Prescott. A different Missouri offense? Certainly. A less productive offense? I wouldn’t bet on it.

-Where will the pass rush come from? The best medicine to counter good quarterback play is pressure, but it’s hard to pinpoint who will be a frequent pocket presence for the Missouri defense. Since their run of elite edge rushers in the middle part of the decade, the Tigers have relied on interior defenders and linebackers to create pressure. Jordan Elliott is a legitimate force at tackle, but ends Akial Byers and Trajan Jeffcoat, neither of which had a sack in 2018, need to take major leaps forward.

Ranking The Units

1. Receivers
2. Offensive Line
3. Linebackers
4. Running Backs
5. Quarterbacks
6. Defensive Backs
7. Defensive Line

Schedule Analysis

National Ranking: 47
SEC Ranking: 12
Swing Game: Nov. 16 vs. Florida
Trap Game: Oct. 19 at Vanderbilt

Ole Miss and Arkansas from the SEC West? A rebuilding West Virginia in the non-conference? South Carolina and Florida both at home? If Missouri is to make a BCS/New Year’s Six bowl for the first time, this is the year to do it. It’s not out of the question for the Tigers to be a favorite in 11 of their 12 games, with the early November trip to Georgia being the lone exception. The other road games are Arkansas, Kentucky, Vanderbilt, and Wyoming, and the Tigers are one of just four Power Five teams that do not play more than four straight games without an open week.

Season Prediction

The ghosts of South Carolina will derail major dreams when the Gamecocks win a fourth straight Battle of Columbia, but the Tigers will rebound to get to 6-1. Can Missouri survive back-to-back road games at Vanderbilt and Kentucky? The call here is no, as Kentucky will make it five in a row in the series. After a second straight loss at Georgia, Missouri will circle the wagons and upset Florida in Columbia to start another strong close to the season. The Citrus Bowl isn’t the goal, but it’s a solid landing spot and will give the Tigers a chance to reach double-digit wins for the third time this decade and first under Odom.

Overall Record: 9-3
SEC Record: 5-3
Final CFP Ranking: 15
Bowl: Citrus Bowl vs. Iowa

Matt Smith - Matt is a 2007 graduate of Notre Dame and has spent most of his life pondering why most people in the Mid-Atlantic actually think there are more important things than college football. He has blogged for College Football News, covering both national news as well as Notre Dame and the service academies. He credits Steve Spurrier and Danny Wuerffel for his love of college football and tailgating at Florida, Tennessee, and Auburn for his love of sundresses. Matt covers the ACC as well as the national scene.