NCAA Football Preview - Missouri Tigers

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Updated: 8/23/2013 1:36 pm

The Tigers failed to win back-to-back games at any point during the season. They also could not take advantage of a home-heavy schedule, going just 3-4 at Faurot Field. Their only wins in the SEC came against Kentucky (33-10) and Tennessee (51-48 in OT), the two teams that finished below the Tigers in the SEC East standings.

Missouri had one of nation's toughest roads in terms of strength of schedule, and it failed to play up to its level of competition. During the course of the season it lost games to Georgia, South Carolina, Alabama, Florida and Texas A&M, all of which where ranked in the top-10 when the matchup was played. Mizzou also dropped a contest to Vanderbilt (19-15), which finished the season ranked No. 23.

After catching some tough breaks in 2012, Pinkel is ready to prove his team's worth this fall.

"We lost five of our top 10 offensive linemen and our starting quarterback (to injuries)," Pinkel said. "We're very, very hungry, and we're excited to get back in and compete."


OFFENSE: The Tigers were bit hard by the injury bug last season, and that combined with the tough defenses of the SEC resulted in a big down tick in offensive production from the year before (25.8 ppg, 356.4 ypg).

After an impressive sophomore season, quarterback James Franklin took a step back as a junior, completing less than 60 percent of his passes for 1,562 yards, 10 TDs and seven interceptions, while missing three whole games and parts of others with injuries. His head coach is optimistic for a rebound in 2013, however.

"I really felt bad for him because of all these things that happened to him," Pinkel said of his quarterback. "The year before he didn't miss a game ... But he had a great spring. He's healthy now. I think he's driven, like we all are, to get back to winning, because that's what we do at Missouri."

Luckily for Franklin, he'll have many of his top receiving targets back. Marcus Lucas led the squad with 46 receptions and 509 yards while adding three touchdowns. Dorial Green-Beckham (28 rec, 395 yards, five TDs) was one of the most highly-touted high school recruits two years ago and is poised for a breakout campaign. L'Damion Washington (25 rec, 443 yards, two TDs) is also a big-play threat.

The loss of Kendial Lawrence (1,025 yards, 12 TDs) is huge, but the Tigers hope to not skip a beat with Henry Josey supplanting him as the starting tailback. Josey was outstanding as a sophomore in 2011 (1,168 yards, nine TDs), but he missed all of 2012 while recovering from a knee injury.

DEFENSE: Missouri's defense was behind the SEC learning curve a season ago, as it was one of the weakest units in the league (28.4 ppg, 390.7 ypg). The loss of Sheldon Richardson (75 tackles, 10.5 TFL, four sacks, three FF) and Will Ebner (75 tackles, 10.5 TFL) certainly doesn't help matters, but enough talent returns to remain hopeful for improvement.

Andrew Wilson will lead the linebacking corps once again. He paced the team last year with 79 tackles and had a nose for the football as well with four forced fumbles.

The secondary remains largely intact. E.J. Gaines is a physical corner who made 74 tackles and seven TFL in 2012, and Braylon Webb was also solid with 64 tackles, but the crew needs to make more big plays as they tallied just seven interceptions.

Michael Sam (seven TFL, 4.5 sacks) and Kony Ealy (10 TFL, 3.5 sacks) make up a strong defensive end duo.

SPECIAL TEAMS: Andrew Baggett made 14-of-20 field goal attempts last season, but he was shaky from beyond 40 yards (5-of-9). Christian Brinser will take over punting duties for Trey Barrow

Marcus Murphy is one of the best return specialists in the nation, earning First Team All-SEC honors a year ago after racking up 458 kick return and 374 punt return yards, including a school-record four return scores (three punt, one kickoff). He was named SEC Special Teams Player of the Week twice.

OUTLOOK: Unlike the other SEC newcomer last season (Texas A&M), Missouri struggled to get off the ground, but Pinkel is chalking up the 2012 season as a learning experience and is looking forward to getting back to action.

"I think we certainly understand how great it is to be in the SEC," Pinkel said. "The SEC is what I thought it was going to be. Certainly it's remarkably competitive ... We're ready to get going. We're excited about this season coming up."

Even if the Tigers do enjoy an improved season, there's very little chance they will be able to compete with Florida, Georgia and South Carolina in the SEC East, especially considering their difficult schedule that includes matchups with eight bowl teams from last year. Still, the Tigers have the ability to steal a few of those games and get back to bowl eligibility themselves.

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