Expectations were high for the Missouri Tigers fanbase heading into the 2012-13 season. While no level-headed fan expected to compete for the SEC championship, a bowl game seemed certain. The Tigers had qualified for a bowl game in each of the previous seven seasons while in the Big 12.
Instead, Gary Pinkel's squad pieced together a disappointing 5-7 final record (2-6 in the SEC). Moreover, it wasn't just the overall record that was troubling: the Tigers did not win back-to-back games at any point during the season and finished with a losing record (3-4) at home.
However, upon closer examination, the 5-7 record is not as embarrassing as it sounds. Five of the Tigers' seven losses (Georgia, South Carolina, Alabama, Florida and Texas A&M) were against teams who finished in the top 10 of the AP final rankings. A sixth defeat was at the hands of Vanderbilt who also finished in the AP top 25.
Their 31-27 defeat at the hands of Syracuse was their only loss against a non-top 25 team.
Fast forward to 2013 and Missouri has fallen off the map for most prognosticators. However, I am convinced that this will be a bounce back season with a bowl game for the Tigers. If the right pieces fall into place, they could finish the season with double digits in the win column.
Pinkel recently announced that he is once again going with senior James Franklin to start at quarterback for the Tigers. If the Tigers are going to bounce back in 2013, Franklin will need to resemble the player he was in 2011.
Franklin had 3,846 total yards and 36 total touchdowns in 2011. However, in 2012 his numbers dwarfed to 1,678 total yards and 12 total touchdowns.
Franklin's critics believe that he might not be tough enough to preform consistently in the physically demanding SEC. However, I am convinced those critics are wrong.
In 2012, Franklin suffered from the lingering effects of preseason shoulder surgery. That, combined with several nagging injuries, was why Franklin was never at 100 percent.
Franklin will not put up the kind of numbers he did in the Big 12, but he will have over 3,000 total yards and 25 touchdowns in 2013.
Franklin will have plenty of big targets to throw to this season. In fact, the Tigers have four wide receivers who will receive regular playing time who are 6'4" or taller.
The most physically gifted receiver on the team is sophomore Dorial Green-Beckham (6'6", 220 lbs). Green-Beckham was rated as the No. 1 high school recruit when he signed with Missouri in 2012.
Green-Beckham did not come out of the gates as fast as many fans had hoped. However, most high school players have to adjust to the speed of the college football game. This was certainly the case for Green-Beckham who played high school football in the state of Missouri. While Missouri has solid football programs, they do not compare to states like Florida, Georgia and Texas.
However, Green-Beckham did make major strides as the season went forth and scored touchdowns on four of his final eight receptions.
Fortunately for the Tigers, Green-Beckham will not have to shoulder the passing game alone. Missouri also returns Marcus Lucas who led the squad with 46 receptions and 509 yards and big play receiver L'Damian Washington who had 25 receptions for 443 yards.
The Tigers are also hoping that their running game will take some pressure off of Franklin. The bad news is that 1,000-yard rusher Kendial Lawrence has now departed from Missouri. The good news is that junior running back Henry Josey will be back in 2013.
Josey rushed for 1,168 yards in just 10 games in 2011 before suffering a knee injury against Texas.
Prior to injury, the most impressive thing about him wasn't the nearly 1,200 yards in just 10 games or the 8.1 yards-per-carry average—it was the video game-like runs he made on almost every play.
Josey was truly a human highlight film in 2011. Can he return to similar form in 2013? He sure thinks so. Josey showed up to fall practice with the words "I'm back" cropped into his hair.
Another plus for the Tigers offense in 2013 will be stability of the offensive line. Last season the offensive line was in a constant state of transition because of injuries and positional changes. However, the Tigers return four starters and tight end Eric Waters who will see an increased role in the blocking schemes.
The Missouri defense has been on a downward trend since the 2010-11 season when they finished sixth in the nation in scoring defense at 16.1 points-per-game. This was more impressive when you consider that they played in the offensive-minded, high-octane Big 12 conference.
The defense gave up 23.5 points-per-game in 2011 and those numbers bloated even further to 28.4 points-per-game in 2012.
Those numbers will need to decrease dramatically if the Tigers want to succeed in the SEC. It should be noted that the Tigers defense had their moments during the 2013 season. They held five teams under 20 points including the Florida Gators to 14 in Gainsville.
How many games will the Tigers win in 2013?
However, in the final three games of the season, Tennessee, Syracuse and Texas A&M embarrassed Missouri for 138 points and 1,740 yards.
The Tigers have a bunch of talent coming back on the defensive side of the football. However, they also lost two very good football players in defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson and linebacker Will Ebner who combined for 150 tackles and 21 tackles for loss.
Despite the loss of Richardson and Ebner, the Tigers return four of their front seven including Michael Sam (seven TFL, 4.5 sacks) and Kony Ealy (10 TFL, 3.5 sacks), who make up one of the top defensive end duos in the SEC.
The secondary for the Tigers will need to improve dramatically in 2013. Last season, the secondary only forced seven interceptions but gave up 44 plays over 20 yards; that is a recipe for disaster and one of the primary reasons they ranked 10th in the SEC in total defense and scoring defense.
Despite losing two starters in the secondary, the Tigers do have four players with starting experience in the secondary.
E.J. Gaines led all SEC cornerbacks with 74 tackles last season. Look for Braylon Webb, Matt White, Randy Ponder and David Johnson, who could all have improved seasons in 2013.
The Tigers' kicking game faces some uncertainty headed into the 2013-14 season. Placekicker Andrew Baggett made a respectable 14-of-20 field goal attempts last season. However, he was only 5-of-9 beyond 40 yards and missed four extra points.
The Tigers will be choosing between two walk-ons to replace punter Trey Barrows. The most likely replacement will be junior Christian Brinser who has only punted once in his collegiate career—but it was 47 yards.
The good news for the special teams units is that return man Marcus Murphy who was awarded First Team All-SEC honors a year ago after returning three punts and one kickoff for touchdowns en route to racking up 458 kick return and 374 punt return yards.
Worst-Case Scenario: 3-7 (1-7 in SEC)
Best-Case Scenario: 9-3 and a Bowl bid (5-3 in SEC)
Dr. SEC Preseason Prediction: 7-6 with a win in the Liberty Bowl (2-6 in SEC)