Gary Pinkel and Missouri's first season in the SEC couldn't have gone much worse.
Making the switch to the premier conference in America is never easy, but in addition to having to face South Carolina, Florida and Georgia in the East, the Tigers got saddled with national champion Alabama and Texas A&M—the only team to beat the Crimson Tide—as their West opponents, giving them arguably the toughest schedule in all the land.
Throw in constant injuries to quarterback James Franklin and the offensive line, and it's not exactly surprising Missouri fell to 5-7 and missed a bowl for the first time since 2004.
Still, don't kid yourself into thinking the Tigers don't belong in this conference.
Three of their losses last season came by seven points or less, including a 14-7 defeat at Florida, they have some elite talent at the skill positions from Franklin to Henry Josey to second-year breakout candidate Dorial Green-Beckham and it will be legitimately difficult for the team to be any less healthy than last year.
At the very least, a return to a bowl should be within Pinkel's reach, and that road starts with a cupcake at home against Murray State.
When: Saturday, Aug 31, at 7 p.m. ET
Where: Faurot Field, Columbia, MO
Watch: Missouri's website lists TV coverage as PPV
Live Stream: ESPN3
Spread: Missouri (-38) via Covers.com
Murray State Injuries (via USA Today)
None to report
Missouri Injuries (via USA Today)
DB E.J. Gaines - Knee - Probable
DL Matt Hoch - Tricep - Probable
DL Michael Sam - Leg - Probable
OL Evan Boehm - Foot - Probable
Murray State Player to Watch: Maikhail Miller, QB
If Murray State has any chance of staying in this one, it's going to have to turn the game into a shootout. Missouri is oozing with talent on offense, but the Tigers ranked 10th in the SEC in defense (390.7 yards per game allowed) last year and lost Sheldon Richardson to the first round of the NFL draft.
The Racers' weapon of choosing when they have the ball?
Head coach Chris Hatcher played quarterback for Valdosta State in the mid-1990s when Mike Leach, who went on to garner fame for his "Air Raid" offensive scheme, happened to be offensive coordinator. Hatcher threw for over 11,000 yards and 120 touchdowns during his playing career.
He has brought that mentality to the aptly named Racers, installing what he calls the "Hatch Attack," a different variation of the fast-paced, wide-open offense that gives secondaries nightmares.
How many yards will Mikhail Miller throw for?
Quarterback Casey Brockman, who set all kinds of records, won all kinds of awards and put up all kinds of video-game numbers, is now wearing a collared shirt as the quarterbacks coach, but Ole Miss transfer Mikhail Miller is ready to step in for the Racers.
A 3-star prospect out of high school, Miller attempted just six passes with the Rebels, but the 6'2", 235-pound QB has impressed with his strong arm and mobility during the offseason with Murray State.
With the amount of times he will have the ball in his hands, he should put up some good numbers with Walter Powell, who had 94 catches for 1,213 yards as well as over 900 returning yards as an FCS All-American last season.
Missouri Player to Watch: Henry Josey, RB
Henry Josey is back—four words Missouri fans have been waiting a long time to be able to say.
After tallying 1,168 rushing yards on just 145 carries to establish himself as one of the most electrifying young running backs in America, the First-Team All-Big 12 player saw his 2011 cut short with a devastating knee injury.
He was forced to sit out all of 2012 while recovering from multiple surgeries, but he is back and has looked healthy this summer, per Mark Schlabach:
#Mizzou's Pinkel said Henry Josey is close to 100% "He was a great player as a soph. He's close to looking like that player again."— Mark Schlabach (@Mark_Schlabach) July 16, 2013
With Josey healthy in 2011, the Tigers averaged 5.2 yards per carry as a team. Without him in 2012, they dropped to a meager 3.7.
Not only will he help them move closer to the 2011 level, but his explosiveness and big-play ability will make teams respect the Tigers' ground game, thus taking some necessary pressure off Franklin.
There are tons of playmakers on this offense, but everything may hinge on Josey's effectiveness—something that should excite Tigers fans about the upcoming season.
Who ya got?
At the very least, we will get a good look at how Missouri's defense might fare this season, as they will have to go up against a fast-paced offense capable of putting some drives together through the air.
Nevertheless, the Tigers' weapons of offense will be far too much for the Racers' porous defense and this one should be decided by halftime, if not earlier.
Murray State 21, Missouri 56