Last Updated: 2018-07-18
The Missouri Tigers had one of the greatest mid-season turnarounds you will ever see in 2017. Missouri looked like a team that was dead to rights after the first half of the season. The defense was exposed in a wild 72-43 home opener against FCS Missouri State, and the wheels seemed to fall off after that. They allowed at least 31 PPG over their next five games, all losses, and four of those five losses were by 18 points or more.
Barry Odom looked like he was a dead man walking, but then the offense kicked it into gear and the defense found its rhythm. The offense couldn’t stop scoring, as Mizzou tallied at least 45 points in each of their last six games. The defense vastly improved too, holding opponents to 21 points or less in five straight games before a wild, 48-45 win over Arkansas at the end of the year. Which Mizzou will we see in 2018?
Many are picking to finish Missouri to finish smack dab in the middle of the SEC East. The Tigers are well behind teams like Florida and Georgia, but there are far less questions surrounding them than Vanderbilt or Tennessee. Mizzou’s win total is 6.5 at 5Dimes, and there has been action on the over, bumping the price to -150. BetOnline and 5Dimes both list the Tigers at +3700 to win the SEC. Keep in mind that these win total odds do not include conference championship games or bowl games.
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Don’t laugh, but Missouri has the best quarterback in the conference. Drew Lock has proven he has the potential to do it all at the next level. Lock has the size and arm strength the pro scouts covet, and he will stand tall in the pocket and deliver. He has one of the best deep balls you will find at the collegiate level, and that helped him average an incredible 9.5 yards per attempt in 2017.
However, Lock does struggle with his accuracy. He completed under 50 percent of his passes in four games last season, and that’s something he will look to improve upon as a senior. He has increased his completion percentage by a few points every year, and if he can bump his season average above 60 percent, that’s a great sign for Missouri.
This season, he will not have J’Mon Moore to throw the ball to. Moore racked up over 1,000 yards and 10 touchdowns in 2017, and Missouri will look down the depth chart to replace his production. Emanuel Hall will still be the deep ball threat, and he will certainly stretch defenses with his speed after averaging almost 25 yards per reception last year. Tight end Albert Okwuegbunam is one of the best red zone threats in the conference as well. He led the team with 11 touchdowns in 2017, and he gives Lock a big target.
The offensive line has the potential to be the best unit Missouri has had in quite some time. All five starters from last year return, and there are a combined 96 starts among the returning players. Tackle Paul Adams is the star of the offensive line, and he is tough to push around.
Terry Beckner was able to let out a lot of frustration last season. Missouri pulled off a coup when they landed Beckner, and much was expected out of the five-star recruit. However, he suffered season-ending knee injuries in both 2015 and 2016, putting his future in doubt.
He was able to stay healthy in 2017, and the defense took off once he started to get comfortable. Beckner was a disruptive force through the latter half of the year, and he notched 8.5 tackles for loss during Mizzou’s win streak. He is the anchor of a unit that is likely to start inexperienced underclassmen at the other three positions.
This linebacking corps is very underrated. Terez Hall, Cale Garrett, and Brandon Lee were great at stopping the run last season, and the trio combined to total 24.5 tackles for loss. Only Hall was able to garner all-SEC honors after leading the team with 11.5 tackles for loss, and the other two will look to receive the same attention this year.
At SEC Media Days, Odom answered a question that had been asked a few times throughout the offseason. Kaleb Prewett was the leader of the secondary in 2017, but he was suspended in spring, putting his availability in doubt for the upcoming season. On Wednesday, Odom announced that Prewett had been dismissed from the team, and that leaves a big hole in the secondary. Oregon graduate transfer Khalil Oliver will now be asked to play a starring role and help out two cornerbacks that struggled mightily at times in 2017.
Missouri’s schedule this season is surprisingly tricky because of where games fall on the calendar. Facing Purdue on the road and Georgia at home in consecutive weeks won’t be easy, and back-to-back road trips to South Carolina and Alabama are going to be very tough. Mizzou must also travel to Florida this year, and the Tigers might not be favored in a road game until they take on Tennessee in the penultimate game of the season.
Pick: Under 6.5 (+125, 5Dimes)
The loss of Prewett is likely to go under the radar, but it could be costly when the Tigers go on the road to take on pass-happy Purdue. That’s a game that Missouri probably needs to win in order to finish at 7-5 or better, and without him the under looks like a very sharp play.
-END OF 2018 PREVIEW-
The Missouri Tigers weren’t very good last season, but at least their games were a lot more exciting. After scoring just 13.6 points per game in 2015, the new offense under Josh Heupel took one of the biggest leaps in the country. The 2016 Tigers scored 31.4 points per game. Unfortunately, the increased tempo on offense brought an increased number of breakdowns on defense. The Tigers defense took a massive step back and the team posted a 4-8 record.
Second-year head coach Barry Odom has a much better idea of what he has to work with and the vast majority of the offense is back for another season with Heupel. Could that make the Tigers a sleeper in the SEC East? Probably not, since this is a team that has a long way to go to be competitive in the best conference in the country, but, once again, at least you’ll get something out of the 3.5 hours you spend watching Missouri football. Ten returning starters are back on offense, so the outcome of this season should be contingent on how fast the defense comes together.
Fortunately, a Charmin-soft schedule awaits the Tigers. As a result of the 12 games on the calendar for this season, the Tigers do have a bowl-eligible season win total line of 6.5 at 5Dimes Sportsbook, but the under is at -145, so early indications are that the Tigers may just barely get to that magic six-win total. Keep in mind that the number does not include conference championships or bowl games. It only applies to the regular season.
Total Expected Wins: 5.58
Well, the Josh Heupel offense certainly worked. The Tigers went from 13.6 points and 281 yards per game to 31.4 points and 501 yards per game. The running game jumped by 1.4 yards per carry and the offense, as a whole, jumped by 1.9 yards per play. Drew Lock seemed to be a good fit for the season. The Tigers weren’t as efficient as they would have liked, with a 54.6 percent completion percentage from Lock, but he did have a 23/10 TD/INT ratio and threw for just shy of 3,400 yards. J’Mon Moore was a 1,000-yard receiver and the top four pass catchers are all back in the mix for the Tigers. The hope would obviously be for even more development, since this was such a massive overhaul in the first year under a brand new coaching staff.
Not to be forgotten in the offense, Damarea Crockett set the record for the most rushing yards by a Missouri freshman with 1,062. He also found the end zone 10 times. Now a senior, Ish Witter ran for 750 yards and had six touchdown carries. The Tigers offense looks poised to improve upon last year’s numbers with good depth at running back, wide receiver, and an experienced quarterback in Lock. Furthermore, all five starters are back on the offensive line. After learning new pass protections last season, this group should be even better, which is a little scary because the Tigers had 4.9 yards per carry and only allowed 14 sacks.
This is the side of the ball that presents some challenges. For those looking at the glass as being half-full, Odom was a defensive coordinator here and also at Memphis, so he should know what he’s doing with the defense. The glass half-empty approach would be that a lot of these guys were past Odom recruits, designed to fit the system that he has re-instituted now that he is back as the head coach. Three of the top four tacklers moved on and the secondary lost its top cover corner in Aarion Penton.
There are only five starters back on defense, but that isn’t always a bad thing when you look at how the defense performed overall last year. The increased tempo on offense certainly exposed some shortcomings. Any time a team makes a drastic offensive change, it affects the defense as well. After all, this is a Missouri defense that allowed just 16.2 points per game in 2015 while playing at a snail’s pace. Still, allowing 6.1 yards per play isn’t going to cut it. It certainly didn’t in SEC play, where the Tigers gave up over 500 yards per game and 35 points per contest.
The schedule is bordering on a joke relative to other SEC schools. Missouri gets Idaho, Purdue, and Missouri State outside of conference. Florida comes to Columbia. Alabama and LSU aren’t on the schedule. Missouri was also able to sneak up on teams a little bit more last season in terms of their style of play. It was much different than playing Mizzou the previous season. That won’t be the case this season.
Win Total Pick: Under 6.5
This line is virtually 6 with the under showing up at -145. Even still, my number is closer to 5.5 wins. The Tigers certainly made huge strides on offense last season. Perhaps I have them underrated a little bit, but I’m concerned about the Tigers making adjustments to the adjustments that opponents will make against them with a lot more film. Defensively, this is unquestionably the worst team in the conference, so that will be an ongoing struggle for Odom and his co-defensive coordinators. Even with the soft schedule, this team looks like a candidate to finish last in the SEC East and a jump of three regular season wins is a big leap.
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