Missouri Football: 10 Bold Predictions for Tigers' First Season in SEC
The Missouri Tigers have closed the book on the Big 12 and will take their talents to the dominating SEC. Mizzou broke in a new quarterback in James Franklin last year, featured one of the Big 12's best running backs in Henry Josey and brought in the biggest recruit in Missouri history in Dorial Green-Beckham.
The Tigers will need all of the offensive firepower they can get as they will face some of the best defenses that college football has to offer. On the defensive side, Mizzou will lose a good portion of their defensive line but should have some experience in the back seven.
The 2012-2013 will be the start of a new era for the Missouri Tigers. Here are 10 bold predictions for next season.
James Franklin Will Finish in the Top 4 in Passing Yards
James Franklin is probably the best player you have never heard of. The sophomore took over for Blaine Gabbert at the quarterback position last year and didn't disappoint. Franklin passed for 2865 yards and 21 touchdowns to only 11 interceptions last year.
Things are going to be much more difficult next year in the SEC. But Franklin will be getting his first, third and fourth leading receivers back next year. The departure of Michael Egnew is going to hurt, but the addition of the No. 1 overall recruit, according to Rivals.com, Dorial Green-Beckam, will do wonders for an already explosive Missouri offense.
Arkansas' Tyler Wilson and Georgia's Aaron Murray were first and second in passing yards in the SEC last year, respectively. Both quarterbacks will return next year, and it is unlikely Franklin will be able to keep up with them. Tyler Bray of Tennessee actually led the SEC in passing yards per game, but the incoming junior only played in seven games due to injury.
After that, Franklin looks to be in good shape to nab the No. 4 spot. His biggest opposition will come from Alabama's A.J. McCarron.
Franklin had to undergo shoulder surgery and will be out until August. This was a huge blow in that he will lose a lot of reps. However, Franklin should be healthy for the beginning of the season.
James Franklin Will Finish in the Top 5 in Rushing Touchdowns
While James Franklin can certainly get the job done with his arm, he can also do a lot of damage with his legs. Franklin will likely be the SEC's closest thing to a true dual-threat quarterback. Franklin ran the ball 217 times for 981 yards and 15 touchdowns last season.
There is little doubt that Franklin will lead all SEC quarterbacks in rushing touchdowns, but he could end up being in the top five if he is successful at running the ball in the SEC.
That will be a tall task considering the speed that SEC defenses are notorious for. Franklin was able to break a lot of initial tackles in the Big 12, but he won't have nearly as much success at breaking tackles in the SEC.
Nevertheless, 15 touchdowns was a ridiculous mark last year, and at the end of the season, you could see him battling running backs for a top-five slot in rushing touchdowns.
Dorial Green-Beckam Will Eclipse 1,000 Receiving Yards
As mentioned earlier, Dorial Green-Beckham was the highest rated recruit to ever come to Missouri. Green-Beckham ended his high school career with over 6,300 receiving yards, shattering the National Federation of High School Association Record Book's previous mark of 5,867 yards.
The 6'6" freshman can run a 4.4 40-yard dash and has drawn comparisons to Calvin Johnson. The transition from high school football to the SEC will have its growing pains, but Green-Beckham will provide James Franklin with an elite deep threat and will give opposing defensive coordinators headaches.
One thousand yards is a lofty goal for any SEC wide receiver, let alone a freshman. But if any freshman can do it, it's Green-Beckham.
Kony Ealy Will Record Seven or More Sacks
Kony Ealy hasn't received much playing time in his tenure at Mizzou. He has been behind players like Aldon Smith, Brad Madison and Jacquies Smith on the depth chart.
Madison is still there, but Ealy will play opposite him. Madison will command a lot of attention, so Ealy will have his chance to make a mark. And all signs are showing he will do just that.
Ealy was a highly touted recruit out of New Madrid, MO. He is very athletic and should be able to generate a lot of pressure on the outside.
Yahoo! Sports reported that the sophomore is making an impact in spring practices:
"Kony Ealy is a promising sophomore defensive end. He needs to have spectacular season; 16 tackles are not enough to take Mizzou to the championship. Ealy is having a great spring practice this year."
Mizzou's Defense Will Allow Less Than 20 Points Per Game
Missouri's defense gave up 23.5 points per game last season. While the Big 12 is known for more high-powered offenses, the SEC have some scary offenses as well. The biggest reason Mizzou's defense will improve will be through their experience in the back seven.
The Tigers lost Jacquies Smith, Dominique Hamilton and Terrell Resono, but they return Sheldon Richardson and Brad Madison. Missouri had an impressive defensive line last year. While this year will likely be a regression, the front four should still make a huge impact.
Mizzou's linebackers are going to be the strong point of the defense. The Tigers return starters Andrew Wilson and Zaviar Gooden. Will Ebner, who was granted an extra year of eligibility after sitting out 2011 with a high ankle sprain, will also return for the Tigers, giving them an extremely talented and experienced trio of linebackers.
Missouri had a young secondary last season and will return three of the four starters. The Tigers will miss Kenji Jackson, but keeping Kip Edwards and E.J. Gaines will be huge.
Mizzou Will Only Lose One Game at Home This Season
Mizzou will have two incredibly difficult home games this season. Defending SEC East champs, Georgia, will come to Columbia in just the second week of the regular season. Georgia is expected to be ranked in the top 15 next year and will return a number of important starters.
But Mizzou's biggest home test will be on Oct 13 when the defending national champions come to Columbia. Alabama is expected to be a top-five team yet again this year despite losing Trent Richardson and plenty of defensive starters.
Missouri play Arizona State at home after the Georgia game. Missouri lost an overtime thriller last year at Arizona State. The Sun Devils will have lost quarterback Brock Osweiler and linebacker Vontaze Burfict, but they will still be a tough matchup.
Mizzou will also host Southeastern Louisiana, Vanderbilt, Kentucky and Syracuse.
If Mizzou can only surrender one game at Faurot Field, that would be a huge victory for the Tigers and would put them right at the top in the SEC. However, that is a lot easier said than done.
Missouri Will Beat Florida, Tennessee and Texas A&M on the Road
This is probably the boldest prediction that I have. Defeating Florida, Tennessee and Texas A&M would be asking a lot for any team in the country. But none of these teams jump out at you as teams who could dominate Mizzou at home.
Tennessee will be a force to be reckoned with if Tyler Bray can stay healthy. Florida will have a stingy defense as always, but the offense is suspect without a clear-cut starting quarterback.
Mizzou has defeated the Texas A&M Aggies at College Station for two straight years. And by some ridiculous scheduling event, the Tigers will yet again travel to College Station next year. The Aggies will have a new quarterback, and it seems that Mizzou just owns College Station as of late.
While none of those three games seem like an automatic loss for the Tigers, the task going of on the road and beating Tennessee, Florida and Texas A&M in the same season is going to be difficult. Nevertheless, it isn't impossible.
The Tigers Will Finish Second in the SEC East
Georgia seems to be the favorite to win the SEC again this year, as they should be. If Marcus Lattimore can stay healthy, then South Carolina will be the favorite to come in second. If injuries were to bother Lattimore again next year, that could open the door for Missouri to claim the second spot.
Florida, Tennessee and Texas A&M are figured to be factors in the SEC East race as well, and as I just mentioned, the Tigers have to play those three teams on the road.
A lot of things would have to go Missouri's way for them to end up in second place. But it isn't out of the question.
Mizzou Will Finish in the Top 3 in Offensive Yards Per Game in the SEC
Most of this is going to depend on how successful James Franklin will be against SEC defenses. If Franklin is able to keep defenses honest with his arm and be a factor in the running game, ranking in the top three in offensive yards per game is certainly not out of the question.
However, if Franklin struggles adjusting to the SEC, it will be almost impossible for Mizzou to achieve this feat. While teams like LSU and Alabama scored a lot of points, they didn't record as many offense yards per game as one would think. Most of that was a testament to Alabama's and LSU's defense.
Arkansas will likely have the most prolific offense. Georgia is expected to have a fantastic offense as well, but after that there is room for Mizzou to sneak in there.
The Tigers Will Qualify for the Outback Bowl or Better
I fully expect the SEC to have one team in the national championship game. That means another will get a BCS bid, which will clear up some space for Mizzou to play in a decent bowl.
I don't think Mizzou will rank in the top three in the SEC next year. So the Outback Bowl is more of a realistic goal.
The Independence Bowl was a slap in the face last year, and Mizzou has a history of being passed up by more "favorable" teams. Two years ago, Missouri got the Insight Bowl despite having a better record, having a higher ranking and defeating Texas A&M, who received a bid to the Cotton Bowl and got trounced by LSU.
So even if Mizzou is in position to be selected to the Outback Bowl, they could be passed up yet again.