The 2010 Missouri squad grew up fast, amassing a 10-3 record and playing some of the nation's best defense. They bring back 18 starters for the 2011 season, and expectations are higher than they have been in a long time in Columbia.
Every year there are players, moments and games that surprise everybody. It's what makes sports such an alluring event to watch.
Here's my stab at five bold predictions for one of Missouri's most talented teams in a long time.
Brad Madison transformed himself from an offensive guard into an All-Conference defensive end in just one season.
The junior was a third-string defensive lineman for the Tigers last year, but that didn’t stop him from tallying 32 tackles and 7.5 sacks for one of the nation’s most improved defenses.
Madison’s spring campaign was dominating to say the least. He was un-blockable and, along with winning the Spring Ball MVP, earned the high praise of his coaches.
Many stated that it may be the best spring season a Missouri Tiger has had in the Gary Pinkel era.
He’s unknown by most of the country, but this is going to change big time in 2011. I think Madison will explode onto the scene and is on his way to an All-American nomination.
T.J. Moe was another Tiger that switched positions in 2010, and he responded by becoming the team’s top receiver in just one season.
From the “Moe Miracle” to his 16-catch performance in the Insight Bowl, Moe was the team’s most consistent option week to week and epitomized the slot receiver position.
That being said, the fan favorite benefited from being an unknown commodity last season. He also was one of two receivers who received over 60 percent of QB Blaine Gabbert’s passes.
I think the tough receiver will still have a successful year. But with the loss of Gabbert and his team's concentration on defensive, T.J. Moe’s 2011 will not be as prolific as his sophomore sensation was.
On the surface, this hardly seems to be a bold prediction. But when you consider the team’s home schedule, an undefeated defense of Faurot Field would be a great accomplishment for Mizzou.
Let’s be frank, Mizzou should have no problem beating Miami (OH), Western Illinois and the homecoming game against Iowa St.
But historically, the team has struggled against Texas, and Oklahoma St. brings back one of the best teams in the country from 2010. And of course, Texas Tech shocked the Tigers last season in Lubbock.
Despite the Tigers' past “tradition” of losing a game or two they’re not supposed to during the season, I think this Tiger team has a lot of experienced players who know how to win big games.
The fans will be rocking for the Texas and Oklahoma St. games especially. They will go undefeated at home again in 2011, in one of the growing home-field advantages in the country.
The Tigers surprised everyone last season by playing some of the best defense in the country. This resurgence was largely due to the play of the defensive line.
It’s true that Missouri led the conference in total sacks in 2010. So why would it be a surprise if they did it again?
The best defensive end for the past two seasons, Aldon Smith, is no longer with the team, and the unit, as a whole, flew under the radar last year. But most people wouldn’t believe me when I say that the defensive line might be better in 2011 without the first-rounder.
Three of the starters from last season return, led by All-Conference defensive end Jacquies Smith. The aforementioned Brad Madison has been a terror in the offseason, and after a three-year wait, former 5-star prospect defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson is finally slated to join the team.
This will be the best line Missouri has ever had, creating quite a problem for the Big 12’s offensive coordinators.
Missouri utilized a four-back rotation last season, to tally over 1,000 yards as a unit in 2010. But I think one of these players is going to break out on his own and reach the milestone in 2011.
Kendial Lawrence and De'vion Moore split starting duties during the season, while then-freshman Henry Josey and Marcus Murphy provided sparks on third downs.
They all have their unique attributes that make them useful. This spring, Moore saw most of the time with the first team and is used primarily on the goal line. But he lacks the straight-line speed and quickness of the other three backs.
I don't know who it is going to be, but typically, Missouri's most successful teams have had one go-to guy at running back. There's only one football at the end of the day.
I expect that one of the four will emerge as the consistent option and carry a lot of the load to a 1,000-yard season.