Missouri Football: 2012 Season Preview for the Tigers
Missouri football fans, your wait is almost over. Your light is blinking, and you're about to be seated at the table of college football's VIPs, who are—in all honesty—reluctant, but willing to let you sit with them.
It's time for a solid first impression.
Missouri has enjoyed tremendous success in recent seasons by its standards, pulling off wins against Oklahoma and Texas in back-to-back seasons.
But you can take all the stats and accomplishments and throw them out the window as far as SEC fans are concerned.
In 2012, Missouri will indeed have to live up to their moniker of "Show-Me," and show the rest of the SEC that it can at least keep up with the pack.
Missouri fans have been glad to oblige. Their team has to simply come out and perform.
There were several recruiting victories across the nation on national signing day, but perhaps no single victory was greater than the nation's No. 1 overall recruit, Dorial Green-Beckham, picking the Missouri Tigers.
In a nationally televised event that had a live ESPNU remote from Hillcrest High School in Springfield, Mo., the 6'6" 220-pound wide receiver chose to play for Mizzou over Arkansas, Texas and Alabama among others.
For Missouri, scoring a huge 5-star (h/t Rivals) recruit is not in its pedigree, but turning out first-round draft picks among the best schools in the nation is. It's a true testament to the ability of Gary Pinkel and his staff.
So what will happen with the phenomenally talented Green-Beckham? An ESPN poll shows that fans think he will have the greatest impact of any SEC freshman.
The only thing I can equate DGB's announcement to sports-wise in Columbia, which was basically a spontaneous moment of sheer ecstasy, would be Albert Pujols hitting the homer off Brad Lidge in the 2005 MLB playoffs. Columbia went nuts.
Missouri will be bringing back six offensive starters from 2011, including quarterback James Franklin. The Tiger offense racked up a 475.54 yards-per-game average last season, good for 12th nationally.
The strong point of the offense was the rushing game, which led the Big 12 with 244.00 yards per game, and ranked ninth nationally.
The pieces of the 2011 rushing success aren't totally in place, however. Out still is Missouri's leading rusher, Henry Josey, who had a staggering 8.1 yards-per-carry average, second in the FBS.
The bad news is that there is no timetable set for a Josey return, who sustained a knee injury that Missouri team physician Pat Smith referred to as "one in a million."
At the same time, Josey tore his MCL, his ACL and ruptured his patellar tendon. It's an injury that should have ended his career, but he has rehabbed himself to running full speed at present.
Josey still has his redshirt available, and head coach Gary Pinkel may utilize that this year if he feels that not enough progress is being made.
The offensive line lost three starters, but returns three. If that math isn't adding up for you it's because the anchor of the line, left tackle Elvis Fisher, announced that he would be passing on the NFL draft and returning to Mizzou for his final season of eligibility in 2012 after a knee injury had kept him out of the 2011 season.
With Fischer protecting Franklin's blind side, center Travis Ruth and right tackle Justin Britt will be bringing some much-needed experience for the Tigers' inaugural season in the SEC.
The big question mark will be the depth at wide receiver. Returning will be the veteran T.J. Moe, who is already a permanent hero in Missouri after the "Moe Miracle" of 2010.
If true freshman Dorial Green-Beckham can live up to the hype surrounding him, others may be able to feed off of that energy and get momentum rolling at a spot that has to make improvements from a year ago.
The defensive stats and NCAA rankings for the 2011 Mizzou defense are nothing that jumps out at you, but playing in a Big 12 conference where high-octane offenses are the norm won't leave you with a lot of glitzy numbers.
The most important thing for the Tigers going into their freshman SEC season will be their ability to stop the run, and they were for the most part pretty successful in that endeavor.
Missouri ranked fourth in the Big 12 in total defense, while its scoring defense was third. Its rushing defense, however, was a respectable 29th nationally.
Six starters return from the 2011 squad, seven when you include another returning injury in senior LB Will Ebner.
But the focal point of that run-stopping capability will be hanging in the balance of the newlook defensive line. The only returning player up front will be a huge asset, however, in senior Brad Madison.
Madison sat out of preseason camp while letting surgery from a shoulder injury heal, but he will be 100 percent for the start of the season, and firing on all cylinders.
Transfer sensation Sheldon Richardson will not immediately be available, but when he enters the fold he will add some much-needed experience.
Mizzou's linebackers have always been a strong point, and 2012 will be no different. Besides Ebner making a return, senior Zaviar Gooden and junior sensation Andrew Wilson will be returning to complete one of the most solid linebacking groups in the SEC.
Wilson was Mizzou's leading tackler last season (98) as well as the MVP of the bowl game against North Carolina.
Head coach Gary Pinkel knows that his secondary was full of youth in 2011, but returning three of the four starters has him excited about the guys taking on SEC receivers.
“You’ve got E.J. Gaines back and he was an all-conference player last year, he did some great things,” Pinkel said.
“Kip Edwards is back, he’s a returning starter with tremendous ability. Robert Steeples played a lot last year, and Randy Ponder is back as our primary nickel guy, so we’re pretty solid there overall."
Special Teams Preview
Missouri senior Trey Barrow is the "foot" of the football squad, taking care of punting quite nicely in 2011 with a 44.82 average yards per punt, good for ninth nationally.
How does that average compare to the rest of the SEC teams? It's second only to Arkansas, who had a 45.3 average.
But punting wasn't his only specialty, as an injury to Grant Ressel saw Barrow put square in the middle of the place kicking duties, where he also shined, hitting every extra point and missing only two field goals the rest of the way.
Highly talented cornerback E.J. Gaines took care of many of the punt return duties a year ago. But one of Gary Pinkel's missions in 2012 will be to get his new prized recruit, Dorial Green-Beckham, touching the ball as much as possible, and returning punts would be ideal in making that happen.
Head coach Gary Pinkel has done quite the job in his time at Missouri.
Pinkel took the program from the hands of Larry Smith. At the time, it was technically on the rise, but as far as their national or even regional profile, it was a complete joke.
Recruiting in St. Louis belonged to Illinois. Recruiting in Kansas City belonged to Nebraska. Down in Springfield, Mo., the gates were wide open, but going to Missouri was a suicidal move career-wise.
Pinkel has changed the way in-state recruits think about going to Mizzou, and it has helped them immeasurably.
But in all the accolades that Pinkel is credited for, he's got a solid staff that has done an amazing job of staying together for the most part.
One of the other keys to his success has been defensive coordinator Dave Steckel. Many programs around the nation have been looking at the highly disciplined former Marine to run their squad, and keeping Steckel around has been a fantastic feather in the cap for Pinkel.
And let's not forget about offensive coordinator David Yost. Yost was responsible for taking the reins of the offense when Pinkel's longtime assistant Dave Christensen left to take the head coaching job at Wyoming.
Not only pulling the trigger in one of the country's most explosive offenses, Yost is also the main coach involved with recruiting, and his methods of enticing Dorial Green-Beckham have earned him some well-deserved praises.
Pinkel was made for this SEC transition. There's no better coach or staff that Missouri could have to get it to where it wants to be than the guys who are currently running the show.
To say that this won't be the average year at previewing the Missouri football schedule would be spot-on.
Gone are the familiar regional foes, replaced with some of the highest-grade football talent in the nation for the sake of the almighty dollar.
Missouri fans may be surprised to know that the Tigers actually hold a winning record against the SEC all-time. Against all current teams, Missouri is 23-15-1.
But in this new year, it's not going to be about the past. Let's take a look at the entire 2012 Missouri football schedule.
|Sept. 1||SE Louisiana||Columbia, Mo.||6:00pm||ESPN3.com/PPV|
|Sept. 8||Georgia*||Columbia, Mo.||6:45pm||ESPN2|
|Sept. 15||Arizona State||Columbia, Mo.||6:00pm||ESPN2|
|Sept. 22||South Carolina*||Columbia, Sc.||TBA||TBA|
|Sept. 29||Central Florida||Orlando, Fl.||TBA||TBA|
|Oct. 6||Vanderbilt*||Columbia, Mo.||TBA||TBA|
|Oct. 13||Alabama*||Columbia, Mo.||TBA||TBA|
|Oct. 27||Kentucky* (HC)||Columbia, Mo.||TBA||TBA|
|Nov. 3||Florida*||Gainesville, Fl.||TBA||TBA|
|Nov. 10||Tennessee*||Knoxville, Tn.||TBA||TBA|
|Nov. 17||Syracuse||Columbia, Mo.||TBA||TBA|
|Nov. 24||Texas A&M*||College Station, Tx||TBA||TBA|
Home games in bold. * = Conference Event
Important for fans to note, many are upset about the Southeastern Louisiana game being available for purchase on pay-per-view, however, the game will be aired for free on ESPN3.com or the WatchESPN app where available.
One Game That the Tigers Absolutely Will Win
Kentucky is one of three current SEC teams that has a winning record against the Tigers, but this won't last past October 27.
Kentucky and Missouri have been traditionally very similar programs, but the directions the two have gone even in the last 15 years have been like night and day.
The Wildcats finished with a 5-7 record in 2011, most of their losses being absolute blowouts, and their wins being close games.
Among catalysts of this review are the 54-3 beating at the hands of South Carolina, and a marginal 14-3 win over in-state rival Western Kentucky.
And did we mention that Kentucky will be coming to Columbia for Homecoming?
This one will be an absolute thriller on the hardwood, but as far as the gridiron is concerned, it won't even be close. Missouri will want to control the game by running the ball and simply holding onto possession in this one, keeping its scoring low, and Kentucky's lower.
Final Score: Kentucky 7, Missouri 28
One Game That's a Tossup
Most Missouri fans have already thrown this one in the win column based on Vanderbilt's tradition.
I've said it before and I'll say it again until I'm blue in the face: There's no way Missouri walks all over this team. No chance, no how.
Vanderbilt is tough to say the least. Quarterback Jordan Rodgers and tailback Zac Stacy are both seniors, and with the tough games they played a year ago, this should worry Missouri.
Don't let the Commodores' 6-6 regular-season record from a year ago fool you...they lost to Georgia and Florida each by only five points, and only lost to Arkansas by three.
There is absolutely no doubt that Vanderbilt is going to come out stronger than last season, and they are going to be on the plus side of more of those close games this season.
The question as far as Missouri is concerned is how will they face up to Missouri's fast-paced, no-huddle offense that isn't like any others in the SEC?
This will be an amazing watch, and should have the neutral college football fan tuning in on the grounds that it will likely be a very close game.
One Game the Tigers Could Lose
If you were to ask Mizzou fans to point out the toughest game of the season, it wouldn't take long.
It's hard for me to sit here and objectively say that Missouri has a chance in this game, because it just doesn't.
Alabama is on a down year in 2012 by its standards, losing several players to the NFL.
But where there was one, there's four to five just like him in Tuscaloosa, meaning that if Missouri were to even have a prayer in this game, Alabama would have to totally overlook the Tigers and end up beating itself.
Earlier this summer I predicted a 45-6 Missouri loss in this game, and many fans—including Alabama fans—have said it will be much closer.
I stand by my original statement. Missouri's offense just isn't dynamic enough to match the speed and intensity Alabama will bring to Columbia.
It won't matter if the Big 12's leading rusher from a year ago, Henry Josey, is back. Spreading out Alabama's defense with Missouri's tricky formations won't allow Missouri to be able to run the ball up the middle. To compensate, quarterback James Franklin will be relied upon too much, and it will be easy for Alabama to hone in on the Missouri attack.
Not even receiving phenom Dorial Green-Beckham will be able to outrun the insanely fast coverage of Alabama which kept LSU to zero points in the national championship game.
The only way Missouri can win is if Alabama is plagued with turnovers, and every Missouri player can play the best game of their careers.
Offensive MVP Prediction
He's Missouri's handyman.
Not quite the running presence of Brad Smith, but James Franklin's dual-threat capabilities will keep opposing defenses honest all season long.
Franklin came to Missouri as a 4-star recruit (per Rivals), but in his freshman season didn't quite stun people the way that he was perhaps expected to.
Pulling off a win against Texas, despite the fact the Longhorns were clearly on a down year, was enough for fans to put a lot more faith in Franklin.
And if you haven't seen his gutsy touchdown run against Texas A&M, you might want to take a look. There's no doubt that Franklin is legit, and will be able to compete physically with the opposition in the SEC.
If Henry Josey can come back near the beginning of the season, or if Dorial Green-Beckham lives up to all of his hype, Franklin may have some competition in this category. Overall, I think he takes the cake, and will be Missouri's offensive MVP.
Defensive MVP Prediction
Despite the new look up front and numbers that aren't eye-popping, Missouri will be returning some serious playmakers on the defensive side of the ball.
And although highly talented Sheldon Richardson will be out to start the season, there are several all-conference guys from a year ago who will be ready to play.
Among them is linebacker Andrew Wilson, who is an absolute beast all-around.
I would compare Wilson to an NFL player like Bob Sanders, who doesn't need a lot of speed and momentum to be absolutely explosive.
As mentioned earlier, Wilson led the team in tackles a year ago. Having a much more solid linebacking group to help support him from a year ago makes his overall potential even scarier for SEC offenses.
Newcomer of the Year Prediction
Missouri's newcomer of the year can be summed up in three letters...D.G.B.
Without question, Dorial Green-Beckham will have the greatest impact on the Tiger team of any new player.
The big point of concern, besides the obvious of keeping him healthy, will be to convince him to stay around longer than two seasons.
I'm going to go out on a limb and say that I think DGB scores the first touchdown of the season for Missouri against the Southeastern Louisiana Lions.
How many more touchdowns and big plays will he have this season? I believe several, but only time will tell.
But without any doubt, DGB is an easy pick for newcomer of the year.
Best NFL Draft Prospect
This year's Mizzou football squad has many potential NFL players, but the one that has the highest stock at present would be the one who passed on his chance in the draft in left tackle Elvis Fisher.
Before the 2012 NFL draft, nflsfuture.com had Fisher listed as the 10th-best offensive lineman prospect. Staying and finishing his senior season at Mizzou will likely put him over 50 career starts and raise that profile even more.
Going into the upcoming season, Fisher has been picked by both the coaches and the media to be third-team all-SEC.
If Fisher has the season he is capable of having, look for him to be an early second-round selection in 2013.
Best Five Twitter Follows
Chris Gervino: Tiger Network Sideline Analyst
Chris Gervino has made a name for himself in the mid-Missouri area as a sports anchor for two major network affiliates, as well as being the sideline voice of the Tigers on their football radio broadcasts.
Gervino lives for the Tigers, and covers them very thoroughly. Expect him to be in overdrive mode as Missouri is making the SEC transition.
Twitter handle: komuChris
Rock M Nation: Missouri Football Fan Blog
This site has it all, and generally very quickly. From announcements on future opponents, to key injury news and updates, no Tiger fan should be without knowing what's going on at Rock M Nation, named after the famous rock "M" that sits on the hill at the north end of Memorial Stadium.
Twitter handle: rockmnation
Gabe DeArmond: Lead Writer for PowerMizzou.com
Gabe writes for this Rivals.com affiliate, and is top-notch at reporting breaking news, as well as finding something about a story that others have missed.
And if you want recruiting information or evaluations, this is your guy, as his expertise and analysis on the subject makes many fans think that he has a working crystal ball.
Twitter handle: GabeDeArmond
Chad Moller: Media Relations Director for Mizzou Athletics
There is no denying that Chad Moller is one of the ultimate stats guys there is for any team in the country. He must have an access database larger than most people's personal music collections.
Following him on Twitter will easily make you one of the more knowledgeable Tiger fans there is.
Twitter handle: ChadMo1
Joe Walljasper: Sports Editor, Columbia Daily Tribune
Joe Walljasper is someone I admire tremendously for his opinions and overall views. His editorials are top-notch, and he will offer great opinions about other college football teams as well. You will not be disappointed following this guy.
Twitter handle: JoeWalljasper
What Does Vegas Say?
Not because they care, but because it's their business to know, Vegas has set the odds for Missouri's 2012 football campaign.
Winning the entire SEC is a little bit more of a drop-off, however. If you're wanting to go ahead and order some shirts that say "SEC Champions" in the Tigers' freshman season, you'll be chancing the 35-1 odds (according to Pregame.com).
But how about climbing the mountain all the way to the top? Missouri has never won a national championship in football. Its current odds are set at 150-1 to make it all the way according to Bovada.
I think it's safe to say that as far as Vegas is concerned, Tiger fans shouldn't get too excited just yet. Keeping your money is always the safest bet.
I think with what Missouri is capable of all-around, from coaches and players, there is no reason Missouri can't get the No. 5 bowl selection from the SEC behind LSU, Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina.
And for anyone crying about Arkansas, I'm sorry, but it's just not going to happen. Arkansas had a good season last year and played well against tough teams, but it isn't at all a dynasty, and there isn't any hope of convincing Arkansas fans about that.
Taking the No. 5 SEC bowl slot would put Mizzou in the Chick-fil-A Bowl, formerly the Peach Bowl, which takes place in Atlanta every year.
And who might the Tigers play in this game you may be asking? It would be the No. 2 team from the ACC.
Now, Florida State is predicted by everyone and their mother to run away with the conference and might as well already be BCS-bound.
Not so fast.
I think both Virginia Tech and Clemson beat FSU this year, and it puts FSU in that No. 2 spot against Missouri. The two teams have never met before.
The Tigers, however, would not match up well with the Seminoles, and would find themselves lucky to pull out a win if this were to pan out.
New look, new conference, new attitude...new everything.
This will be a season of firsts like never before at Ol' Mizzou. About two weeks ago, I made a game-by-game prediction for the entire season, and I will summarize it below.
|Opponent||W or L||Final Score|
You'll notice a lot of W's at the end of the season. One of the things Gary Pinkel has prided himself on in recent seasons is "winning November." Going into the final month of the season doing well really puts some added spice on the overall record when it comes to bowl selection.
Not to mention all of Missouri's toughest games are already out of the way at this point.
A 9-3, 5-3 SEC campaign would be a great situation for Missouri, one that some might call favorable. But Missouri has done well at proving the critics wrong in recent years, and would love the chance to do the same thing in their new conference.
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