Coach: Gary Pinkel (113-66 entering 15th season; 186-104-3 overall)
2014 results: 11-3 (7-1 SEC East, first place)
Look back: Coach Gary Pinkel’s program showed 2013 was not a fluke as the Tigers captured their second straight East Division title. A come-from-behind win at South Carolina, 42-13 rout of UF and wins at Tennessee and against Arkansas closed the season.
The Tigers’ 42-13 loss in the SEC title game to Alabama exposed some of Mizzou’s shortcomings. Even so, Missouri has silenced the naysayers who felt the team was in over its head in the SEC after finishing 2-6 in league play during the school’s 2012 league debut.
Offensive starters returning: 6
Offensive starters lost: 5
Defensive starters returning: 6
Defensive starters lost: 5
Key losses: RB Marcus Murphy, WR Bud Sasser, WR Jimmie Hurt, DE Markus Golden, DE Shane Ray, LT Mitch Morse, S Braylon Webb
Top returnees: QB Maty Mauk, RB Russell Hansbrough, C Evan Boehm, CB Aarion Penton, CB Kenya Dennis
Strengths: Big things were expected from quarterback Maty Mauk after he went 3-1 as a starter with 10 touchdowns and two interceptions in 2013 as a redshirt freshman. Mauk instead was wildly inconsistent. He did, however, play big when it mattered, throwing nine touchdowns and no interceptions during the fourth quarter. Mauk has trimmed his body fat from 20 to 11 percent and put countless hours into film study to lay the foundation for a more consistent junior season.
Tailback Russell Hansbrough rushed for 1,084 yards and 10 touchdowns while splitting time in 2014. He will run behind an offensive line that returns four starters.
The cornerback tandem of Aarion Penton and Kenya Dennis will anchor the defense. A season ago Penton had three interceptions and 13 passes defended while Dennis had 10 passes defended and 4.5 tackles for loss.
Weaknesses: For the second season in a row, the Tigers have to replace their top three receivers and two of the SEC’s top defensive ends. Bud Sasser and Jimmie Hunt combined for 19 touchdowns catches in 2014.
Defensive ends Shane Ray and Markus Golden replaced Michael Sam and Kony Ealy last season and are in NFL camps, Ray as a first-round pick. Ray and Golden combined for 24.5 sacks and 42.5 tackles for loss. Junior defensive tackle Harold Brantley was expected to be the Tigers’ next star up front, but he will miss the season because of injuries suffered in a car accident. Sophomore end Charles Harris stood out during the spring and will be asked to carry on the tradition.
Outlook: Mizzou’s 23 combined wins the past two seasons are tied with Alabama for most wins by an SEC school. The Tigers have more holes to fill than last season, but Pinkel has shown the remarkable ability to develop players and reload. Mauk is one of the SEC’s few returning signal callers and has the arm strength and moxie to carry the Tigers through a schedule that does not toughen up until an Oct. 17 visit to Georgia.
Another SEC East title seems unlikely, but Pinkel and the Tigers have been doubted before.
Sept. 5 S.E. Missouri State
Sept. 12 at Arkansas State
Sept. 19 Connecticut
Sept. 26 at Kentucky
Oct. 3 South Carolina
Oct. 10 Florida
Oct. 17 at Georgia
Oct. 24 at Vanderbilt
Nov. 5 Mississippi State
Nov. 14: BYU (Kansas City)
Nov. 21 Tennessee
College Football / College Basketball Handicapper. 2011 won 74%, 2012 won 72% 2015 SPECIAL. CALL, 877.WIN.ATS9 EMAIL,V@VincentRizzoSports.com