2012 Missouri Preview - The Big Move
Missouri CB E.J. Gaines
Missouri CB E.J. Gaines
Posted Jun 26, 2012

CollegeFootballNews.com 2012 Preview - Missouri Tigers

Missouri Tigers

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By Pete Fiutak

Head coach: Gary Pinkel
12th year: 86-54
22nd year overall: 158-91-3
Returning Lettermen:
Off. 37, Def. 20, ST 1
Lettermen Lost: 22
Ten Best Missouri Players
1. WR Dorial Green-Beckham, Fr.
2. CB E.J. Gaines, Jr.
3. LB Andrew Wilson, Jr.
4. OT Elvis Fisher, Sr.
5. QB James Franklin, Jr.
6. DE Brad Madison, Sr.
7. DT Sheldon Richardson, Sr.
8. LB Zaviar Gooden, Sr.
9. WR T.J. Moe, Sr.
10. LB Will Ebner, Sr.
2012 Schedule
Sep. 1 SE Louisiana
Sep. 8 Georgia
Sep. 15 Arizona State
Sep. 22 at South Carolina
Sep. 29 at UCF
Oct. 6 Vanderbilt
Oct. 13 Alabama
Oct. 27 Kentucky
Nov. 3 at Florida
Nov. 10 at Tennessee
Nov. 17 Syracuse
Nov. 24 at Texas A&M
Can Missouri have its cake and eat it, too?

At the start of all the realignment and expansion talks it seemed like a foregone conclusion that Mizzou was going to end up in the Big Ten. It seemed like a perfect fit of academics, geography and TV markets, but the Big Ten didn't seem to be as interested as Missouri wanted it to be. The SEC came calling and now the Tigers are going to be a part of the biggest show in college sports.

The initial reaction of the move to the SEC was the same when Texas A&M decided it was going to make the jump – how was Missouri going to succeed in the SEC when it couldn't win the Big 12 title?

The goal is to be a bit different and to improve the program just enough talent-wise to be able to compete with the biggest and best teams on a regular basis. Missouri has been good enough to beat the top Big 12 teams from time to time, and it's been strong enough to be a regular in the conference title chase, and now it might just have the right blend of positives to be better than many might think.

Going to the SEC is a big recruiting plus. The TV exposure is stronger and the prestige of playing in the premier league should be enough to get Missouri in the door with more and more top recruits. Head coach Gary Pinkel has always had a pipeline to Texas, and with Texas A&M still in the league that might be just enough to keep things open. Just as important – especially this season getting superstar receiver recruit Dorial Green-Beckham – is the ability to keep the top local players close to home. Now, prospects from St. Louis to Kansas City that might normally be tempted by the Big Ten or other Big 12 schools can be sold on the idea of a bigger national profile while getting to play up the road.

But, again, Missouri hasn't had too many problems over the last few years staying with the better teams and the big schools. The problem has been consistency, and in the SEC it's all about being able to bring the A game week-in-and-week-out.

The Tigers were able to pull off a thriller over No. 1 Oklahoma two years ago, and then got steamrolled the week after by Nebraska. They weren't able to close against Arizona State, Kansas State or Baylor last season, but they were good enough to look dominant against Texas and blow away North Carolina. They've been close over the last several seasons, but there always seems to be something missing at just the right time – sometimes it's a key stop and sometimes it looks like a lapse in the game plan – to turn the corner and go from great to special.

Fortunately, Missouri is going to the East while Texas A&M is off to the West, and while these things tend to go in cycles, being in the same division with Kentucky and Vanderbilt is a nice start. At the moment, dealing with Georgia, Florida, South Carolina and Tennessee is far, far better than having to face Alabama, LSU, Auburn and Arkansas every year.

But still, until the wins start coming, the constant knock will be that Mizzou is out of its weight class. Sure, it'll be a tough out and it should win its share of battles, but can the team string together big win after big win to be a player in the SEC? This year, maybe it can.

The schedule really isn't all that bad. Getting Alabama stinks and closing out with the final three conference games on the road at Florida, Tennessee and Texas A&M isn't fair, but considering Georgia is coming to Columbia, the date against Bama and the road trip to South Carolina are the only two games the Tigers shouldn't be able to win.

The offense that finished 12th in the nation in total yards is more mature and should have more firepower in the passing game, while the starting 11 on defense are as good, athletic and nasty as any Pinkel has had during his tenure.

If Mizzou was in the West, forget about it, but in the East and with the talent returning it could be a surprise of a season. The program from top to bottom appears ready to show that it's not going to be a pushover. They've embraced a "nobody believes in us" attitude, because no one believes in them. That might soon change.

What to watch for on offense: Can the line hold up? Finding smart and productive linemen has never been much of a problem for the Tigers, but it was a bit of a patchwork group last season and it's relying on a few hopes and prayers this year. The return of Elvis Fisher from a knee injury is a big deal, giving the line a veteran leader to work around, but the depth is painfully thin and it's not going to be the most physical unit in the SEC. It's going to be a good line, but it'll also be a finesse blocking unit that will have to prove it can handle the killer defensive lines like Florida's, Georgia's and South Carolina's.

What to watch for on defense: A tremendous back seven. The Tigers are used to getting into track meets against the high-octane Big 12 passing games, but it's going to be a different animal now in the SEC. Georgia will be able to throw the ball, and a non-conference game against Arizona State will test out the secondary, but both of those games are at home in mid-September. After that, other than maybe Alabama, there isn't another good passing team on the schedule until the trip to Tennessee to deal with Tyler Bray in mid-November. Missouri will have to change its focus a bit and be ready to get hammered on by decent ground games, and it should be able to take a few more chances with so few top-flight quarterbacks to deal with. That's a huge, HUGE positive considering …

The team will be far better if … the secondary doesn't get torched. While Bray, Alabama's AJ McCarron and Georgia's Aaron Murray are great passers and nice prospects, Missouri lost last year to four future NFL starting quarterbacks in Arizona State's Brock Osweiler (388 yards and four scores); Oklahoma's Landry Jones (448 yards and three scores); Oklahoma State's Brandon Weeden (338 yards and three scores); and Baylor's Robert Griffin III (406 yards and three scores). It took those four, and a tremendous college talent in Kansas State's Collin Klein, to beat Missouri, and while Texas Tech and North Carolina each had 300-yard days, the numbers were mostly in bomb away time to keep up the fight. Missouri was 5-1 last year when allowing fewer than 300 passing yards.

The schedule: Welcome to the SEC, new guy. Good luck with getting Alabama and a trip to Texas A&M from the West, along with divisional road games against Florida, South Carolina, and Tennessee. The conference season opens up against Georgia, and then comes the home part of the series against Arizona State, which might be a must win with road games against South Carolina and UCF coming up.

If Missouri is playing as well as expected, Kentucky and Vanderbilt should be a safety net at home for at least two sure-thing conference wins, but the last three SEC games – Florida, Tennessee, and Texas A&M – are all on the road. It would've been nice to have gotten an open week before Alabama, but instead it comes after the showdown and unnecessarily before Kentucky. With Syracuse up in late November, Mizzou closes out one of the toughest non-conference slates of any SEC team.

Best offensive player: Freshman WR Dorial Green-Beckham. It's okay to gush and put the pressure of greatness on a true freshman when he's this good. The nation's No. 1 recruit is 6-6, 220 pounds and fast. It's all there to be a special star to an already good receiving corps, and while he won't be asked to be the main man right away with veteran T.J. Moe the go-to target, DGB could be just the gamechanger the offense needs. He's not just the best wide receiver prospect to ever come to Missouri; he might be the best wide receiver prospect in college football over the last several years.

Best defensive player: Junior CB E.J. Gaines. The Tiger secondary is full of good playmakers and nice veterans, but it's Gaines who has managed to do a little of everything making 69 tackles to go along with 16 broken up passes and two picks. He won't have to do as much without as many superior passing games to deal with, but he'll be good on No. 1 targets and he'll hold up well against the run.

Key player to a successful season: James Franklin, James Franklin, James Franklin. With star running back Henry Josey expected to need a full season to recover from the knee injury he suffered last year, more of the rushing load will fall on the junior quarterback. He has good size and he's a playmaker of a passer, but he's at his best when he's making things happen on the move taking off for 152 yards against Texas Tech and 142 more in the bowl win over North Carolina. The problem is that he's banged up, suffering a shoulder injury this offseason, and while Mizzou has become a factory for quarterbacks, he has to be healthy and effective for the team to have any success.

The season will be a success if … the Tigers win nine games. While no one around Missouri will concede that this will be anything less than a big season, nine wins after going 8-5 last year would validate that the program belongs in the new league. It will all depend on everyone's health, but there's no reason to expect anything less than a 3-3 split against Georgia, Arizona State, South Carolina, Florida, Tennessee and Texas A&M. Assuming a loss to Alabama, and if there aren't any major mistakes, 8-4 before going to the bowl is a must.

Key game: Sept. 8 vs. Georgia. The Tigers lost the 1960 Orange Bowl to the Bulldogs 14-0 in the only meeting between the two teams. As Missouri's SEC opener, this game is even bigger and more important. The buzz will be through the roof around Faurot Field in what could be a must win for a September 8th game. The Tigers have to four tough SEC road games to deal with and the date with Alabama, so if they can't beat the Dawgs, they could be in danger of a losing conference record.

2011 Fun Stats:
- 4th Quarter Scoring: Missouri 143 – Opponents 59
- Average Yards Per Carry: Missouri 5.4 – Opponents 3.6
- Kickoff Return Average: Missouri 22 yards – Opponents: 17.9 yards

- 2012 Missouri Preview | 2012 Missouri Offense
- 2012 Missouri Defense | 2012 Missouri Depth Chart