Southern Football Report Preseason Poll: #17 Missouri Tigers

Missouri Logo 2What do the Missouri Tigers have to do to earn some respect? Apparently back-to-back trips to the SEC Championship haven’t garnered the Tigers enough street cred that the blue bloods of the conference enjoy on a regular basis. Head Coach Gary Pinkel has quietly built one of the most consistent programs in not only the SEC but in the entire country. Yeah, they went 5-7 in their first season in a new conference but other than that the Tigers have averaged over eleven wins a year under Pinkel’s leadership, not too shabby if you ask me.

Missouri Junior Quarterback Maty Mauk
Missouri Junior Quarterback Maty Mauk

The Missouri Tigers don’t do anything offensively that surprises anyone. They have their system and they stick to it but by the end of the game you look up and realize that they have hung around and stayed close with just about every opponent. Leading the way from the quarterback position will be junior quarterback Maty Mauk, who was shoved into commission as a freshman in 2013. He showed that he could play but made some rookie mistakes. Mauk cut down on those mistakes a good bit in 2014 but still has plenty of room for improvement. The Tigers return four of five offensive lineman in 2015 and the team rushing total per game should move back up past the 200 yards per game mark this season. Running Russell Hansbrough wasn’t the starter in 2014 but he led the team in rushing with over 1,000 yards and 10 touchdowns so it sure feels like the Tigers are getting a returning starter in the backfield alongside Mauk. Now, who Mauk will be throwing too in 2015 is a different story. Missouri lost their top four receivers from last year so there will be some new blood on the outside, but given the system that the Tigers run, I’m sure Coach Pinkel has some play makers on the roster. I look for sophomore Nate Brown to step up and be one of the stars for Missouri in 2015.

On defense, the Missouri Tigers have made it their mission to get after the quarterback and have had loads of success doing it. They have reached the 40-plus mark in sacks in each of the past two seasons but that number may come down a little after losing all four starters on the offensive line. The Tigers lost three to graduation and the draft but lost their lone returning starter, Harold Brantley, to a car accident back in July. It will be up to two sophomores and two juniors to provide the pressure up front that the Missouri defense has become accustomed to doing. The linebackers will be the strength of the Missouri defense in 2015 as they return the two top tacklers from 2014 in this unit. Kentrell Brothers had 122 tackles last season and Michael Scherer had 114 and they will need to provide leadership and direction for the inexperienced defensive linemen in front of them. On the back end the Tigers do return three of four starters from last season led by senior defensive back Kenya Dennis who had 61 stops in 2014. The Missouri defense will be good again in 2014 but they will take a step backwards in the pass rush department.

Missouri Tigers Head Coach Gary Pinkel
Missouri Tigers Head Coach Gary Pinkel

The Tigers are looking to make it three straight seasons of at least 11 wins and they have a schedule in 2015 that may allow them to do just that. The season begins at home with FCS opponent Southeast Missouri State who finished 2014 with a 5-7 record. Missouri will then travel to Jonesboro, Arkansas, to play the Arkansas State Red Wolves in week 2 which is a mystery to me in how that deal got done. I mean it’s not every day that a Sun Belt team gets an SEC program to play them in their home stadium. All I’m saying is that it may be a snake pit on September 12th for the Tigers. Missouri comes home the following week to take on the Connecticut Huskies who haven’t had a winning season since 2010. The Tigers close out the month of September with their first conference game on the road against an improved Kentucky team. October begins with back-to-back division home games against South Carolina and Florida. The Tigers follow those two difficult games with games at Georgia, who shutout the Tigers 34-0 last season, and at Vanderbilt who surprisingly hung with Missouri pretty well in 2014. The Tigers get a bye week in the final weekend of October before their Thursday night home game against the Mississippi State Bulldogs. I knew it was only a matter of time before these two teams played on a Thursday night. Both programs have historically never shied away from the Thursday night stage. The following week, Missouri will have a neutral site game in Kansas City in Arrowhead Stadium against Independent opponent BYU who haven’t had a losing season since 2004. Missouri will then close out the regular season with a home game against Tennessee followed by their cross-divisional rival Arkansas in Fayetteville. This will be Missouri’s first ever trip to Fayetteville.

The Missouri Tigers have firmly planted their flag in the SEC East and it will be up to the rest of the league to take the divisional crown away from them. The rest of the teams in the division are a little better this season than last and the Tigers have some major questions that they need to find answers to but they will have a month to find them. I don’t expect much of a drop off from Missouri but the question will be, how they answer the bell when challenged by the rest of the conference.

Memorial Stadium at Faurot Field - Capacity: 71,168
Memorial Stadium at Faurot Field – Capacity: 71,168

2015 Missouri Tigers Schedule

Sept 5th           Southeast Missouri State
Sept 12th         at Arkansas State
Sept 19th         Connecticut
Sept 26th         at Kentucky
Oct 3rd             South Carolina
Oct 10th           Florida
Oct 17th           at Georgia
Oct 24th          at Vanderbilt
Oct 31st           BYE WEEK
Nov 5th            Mississippi State (Thurs)
Nov 14th          v. BYU (Kansas City)
Nov 21st          Tennessee
Nov 28th         at Arkansas

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