2014 CFN Preview - Missouri Tigers
Missouri QB Maty Mauk
Missouri QB Maty Mauk
Posted Jun 19, 2014

CollegeFootballNews.com Preview 2014 - The Tigers shocked the SEC world in 2013, but it's reloading time. (Getty Images)

Missouri Tigers

Preview 2014 

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By Pete Fiutak 

- 2014 Missouri Preview - What You Need To Know & Top Players
- VOD: College football breakdowns on Campus Insiders

Head coach: Gary Pinkel
14th year: 102-63
24th year overall: 175-100-3
Returning Lettermen
Off. 40, Def. 23. ST 2
Letterment Lost: 23
Ten Best Mizzou Players
1. DE Markus Golden, Sr.
2. QB Maty Mauk, Soph.
3. C Evan Boehm, Jr.
4. SS Braylon Webb, Sr.
5. RB/KR Marcus Murphy, Sr.
6. RB Russell Hansbrough, Jr.
7. LB Kentrell Brothers, Jr.
8. WR Bud Sasser, Sr.
9. WR Jimmie Hunt, Sr.
10. NG Lucas Vincent, Sr.
2014 Schedule

Aug. 30 South Dakota St
Sep. 6 at Toledo
Sep. 13 UCF
Sep. 20 Indiana
Sep. 27 at South Carolina
Oct. 11 Georgia
Oct. 18 at Florida
Oct. 25 Vanderbilt
Nov. 1 Kentucky
Nov. 15 at Texas A&M
Nov. 22 at Tennessee
Nov. 29 Arkansas

As much as 2013 might have been a shocker, doing it again in 2014 would be even more impressive.

It took a perfect storm of key things to happen for Mizzou to win the East and come within a few defensive stops of playing for the national title. Florida was destroyed by injuries, Georgia was banged up, South Carolina gagged against Tennessee, Johnny Football was playing on one leg when Texas A&M came to Columbia, and there weren't any games against Alabama, LSU, or Auburn – before the SEC championship, of course. But give credit to a coaching staff and a program for being really, really good. There's no such thing as a cheap SEC division title, and breaks or not, it was impressive.

Texas A&M might have taken the SEC by storm after coming over from the Big 12, but Missouri actually won something.

It's really, really hard to win a division title in the SEC – remember, Alabama didn't do that last year – and there are just enough problems and concerns to expect a repeat performance. That doesn't mean this can't be a successful season, and that doesn't mean there will be a major step back and be a 5-7 season like 2012. The bar is set higher now, and that means 2014 will see if the Tigers can reload instead of needing to rebuild.

But look at what they have to deal with.

Florida appears to be ready to rebound and South Carolina might be better – both of those games are on the road. Texas A&M is dangerous again and Tennessee has improved – both of those games are on the road, too. However, overall the schedule isn't that bad with no Alabama, LSU or Auburn to face, and the non-conference slate is difficult but manageable having to deal with a road game at Toledo along with home games against UCF and Indiana.

There's no Michael Sam or Kony Ealy getting into the backfield, and there's no Dorial Green-Beckham, L'Damian Washington or Marcus Lucas around anymore for the receiving corps. RB Henry Josey is gone, QB James Franklin is done, and the secondary that gave up 265 yards per game has to undergo an overhaul.

However, even with all of the key personnel losses, the Tigers are still loaded enough and talented enough to content. Mizzou always finds pass rushers, and it has a great tandem in Markus Golden and Shane Ray ready to shine. The receiving corps doesn't have a DGB, but Bud Sasser and Jimmie Hunt are talents. Maty Mauk might just be better than Franklin, and the combination of Russell Hansbrough and Marcus Murphy will be more than fine in place of Josey. And as for the secondary … okay, that's still going to be an issue.

Mizzou doesn't want to think of it this way as a program, but it's playing with house money now for a while. Gary Pinkel was on a hot seat after 2012, but he has proven a few times that he can get within national title range. The Tigers are still dangerous, but now they have to show they can be consistent in the SEC.

What to watch for on offense: The new skill guys. It's rare for a team that finished 16th in the nation in total offense to potentially be better without its starting quarterback, top three wide receivers and a 1,166-yard, 16-touchdown rusher, but that could happen if the wideouts turn out to shine right away. As good a quarterback as James Franklin was, Maty Mauk has a bigger upside. The running backs are fast and talented – Henry Josey's production won't be missed – and the coaching staff has done a great job of stockpiling receiving weapons. The key will be a very good, very experienced line that was a major strength last season and should be again this year after all the parts are put into the right place. In other words, don't expect the production to slow down.

What to watch for on defense: How fast can the secondary come together? Don't expect much of a pass rushing drop-off after losing the 20 sacks of Michael Sam and Kony Ealy, but will that mean the secondary will be able to do more? The linebacking corps could turn out to be the biggest problem if Kentrell Brothers can't be 100% after suffering a torn labrum, but the secondary needs a lot of work after losing star corner E.J. Gaines. Senior Braylon Webb is an unsung SEC star at strong safety, and there are some terrific young corners ready to rise up, but considering the team got torched for over 300 yards five times, couldn't keep Connor Shaw in check in the big loss to South Carolina, and allowed quarterbacks to hit 63% of their passes, there's a lot of work to do.

The team will be far better if… the defense doesn't allow so many first downs. Time of possession wasn't a problem, and coming up with third down stops wasn't much of an issue until late against South Carolina and throughout the Auburn shootout. It's only a little bit of a coincidence that those just happened to be the two games the Tigers allowed the most first downs – 28 against the Gamecocks and 30 against the Tigers. Going back to the last three games of 2012, Missouri has allowed 20 first downs or more in 11 of the last 17 games. To put this into perspective, Louisville led the nation in fewest first downs allowed, giving up just over 14 a game.

The Schedule: After all the drama and fun of last season, it's possible the Tigers can do it again and roll through to another East title, but it'll take some work on the road to get it done. Getting Texas A&M on the road in the interdivisional partnership of Big 12 teams stinks, and going to South Carolina should go a long way to determining the SEC East title, but dealing with improved Florida and Tennessee teams on the road won't be walks in the park.

The non-conference schedule isn't a peach, dealing with defending Fiesta Bowl champion UCF along with a high-powered Indiana team, but both of those are at home. Going to Gary Pinkel's old stomping grounds at Toledo could be more dangerous than it should be for a defending SEC East champion. While it might seem a bit deceiving, only five games are coming against teams that went bowling, and the road trip to A&M is the only November date away from Faurot Field.

Best offensive player: Sophomore QB Maty Mauk. The best offensive player is actually center Evan Boehm, but it's Mauk who'll become the star. James Franklin got hurt midway through last season just when the Tigers had to deal with the meat of the East schedule facing Florida, South Carolina and Tennessee. Mauk stepped in and hit all three of his passes for 23 yards to help the Tigers get by Georgia, and while he struggled with his accuracy against the Gamecocks and Vols, he did a decent job before pitching five touchdown passes in the win over Kentucky. Corbin Berkstresser was supposed to push a bit for the starting job this offseason, but Mauk put an end to that in a hurry. Center Evan Boehm might be the all-star on the offense, and Marcus Murphy could turn out to be the most dynamic Tiger, but Mauk is going to be the star who makes everyone around him better.

Best defensive player: Senior DE Markus Golden. Welcome to the next pass rushing terror. He can do a little of everything right, and now that he has the full-time gig to himself at one end, watch out. Also keep an eye on safety Braylon Webb, who didn't receive a whole bunch of attention last season, but came up with terrific year finishing second on the team with 89 tackles with three picks as a steady hitter for the defensive back seven. He had to make way too many tackles against Auburn – coming up with a season-high 12 stops – and got the job done all year long. Now he's a desperately needed veteran in a rebuilding secondary.

Key player to a successful season: Junior LB Kentrell Brothers. The offense will turn out to be more than fine with several young players good enough to step into key roles and rock. The defense is another story with a terrific-looking line, a shaky secondary, and a banged up linebacking corps including Brothers, the team's fourth-leading tackler last year who's coming off a shoulder injury. The defensive back seven needs steady producers, especially with no real layups after starting out the year against South Dakota State. Brothers has to be a force against the run from his spot in the middle.

The season will be a success if ... the Tigers win nine games. It might seem like a huge letdown considering they were so close to doing something truly amazing, but it's still the SEC, and it's still really, really hard to get close to double-digit wins. If they can take care of the non-conference games, beat Vanderbilt, Kentucky and Arkansas at home and come up with a split in the road games against South Carolina, Florida, Texas A&M and Tennessee, that's nine wins. That's not going to be easy with so much overhaul on both sides of the ball.

Key game: Sept. 27 at South Carolina. It's the Tigers' SEC opener and it might be the toughest game on the slate. It's asking for way too much to get anything like last year's classic, but if Mizzou can somehow turn the tables and come up with the road win this time around, then it's time to get serious about repeating as SEC East champions. If the Tigers are good enough to win this, they're good enough to win every game the rest of the way. If they lose, they'll probably have to be perfect to have a shot at the East title.

2013 Fun Stats:
- First Half Scoring: Missouri 294 – Opponents 128
- Sacks: Missouri 41 for 237 yards – Opponents 27 for 159 yards
- Penalties: Opponents 103 for 768 yards – Missouri 72 for 543 yards
- 2014 Missouri Preview - What You Need To Know & Top Players