With only a few days to go until the start of the 2012 college football season, the anti..."/> With only a few days to go until the start of the 2012 college football season, the anti..."/>
KCKingdom
Fansided

2012 Missouri Tigers Season Preview: A New Era In The SEC

facebooktwitterreddit

With only a few days to go until the start of the 2012 college football season, the anticipation and excitement for the upcoming campaign has never been higher for the Missouri Tigers.

It is the beginning of a completely new era for the University of Missouri as the school decided to move on from the dysfunctional Big 12 (-2) and join the Southeastern Conference. Missouri accepted the SEC’s invitation to join the prestigious powerhouse of conferences on November 6th, 2011 and officially joined the league on July 1st, 2012 along with former Big 12 conference mate Texas A&M.

Mizzou leaves the Big 12 after 104 years in the conference, dating all the way back to the Big Six and Big Eight days. The Tigers’ 120 year rivalry with the University of Kansas, the oldest rivalry west of the Mississippi River, will be put on hold for the time being. The two schools will most likely play each other again down the road, but it will never quite be the same as the games will not mean as much because they are no longer in the same conference.

Leaving all of the tradition and history behind was definitely a difficult thing to do, but an offer from the most powerful conference in the nation only comes around once, and the stability, national exposure and money was too much for the University of Missouri to turn down.

Mizzou has already reaped the benefits of being a member of the SEC before playing a game.

In April, Mizzou and Nike revealed the school’s new brand identity and uniforms for football, men’s and women’s basketball, baseball, softball, volleyball and soccer.

In late May, Faurot Field got a makeover and earlier this month the floor in Mizzou Arena got a new paint job.

Also this month, the SEC released their 2013 basketball schedule and the Tigers are slated to play a school record 13 nationally televised games during league play including 11 on the ESPN family of networks.

Oh, can’t forget about the new and much bigger Big MO drum, the largest bass drum in the world!

And the new Mizzou helmet car!

The biggest announcement however came just five days before Missouri officially joined the league when the University revealed a vital $200 million facility improvement plan with the help of a $30 million donation from the Kansas City Sports Trust, the second largest single donation in the University’s history.

The first part of the plan will cost an estimated $102 million and will include improvements to baseball’s Taylor Field, softball’s University Field, the Mizzou Tennis Complex and Mizzou Golf Facility and of course Memorial Stadium. A new indoor practice facility and weight room are also planned.

An upper bowl that will include over 5,000 general admission seats and 1,000 club seats will be added to the east side of Memorial Stadium, along with additional restrooms, concessions and a more spacious main concourse, all slated to be completed before the 2015 season.

The press boxes on the west side of the stadium will be moved up a level and will be enclosed, with additional premium seating added where the press box was. The famous Rock M will be moved closer to the north end zone and the north concourse will be expanded. Several other structural issues throughout the stadium will be repaired as well. All of this will be completed before the beginning of the 2013 season.

Stability, more national exposure and lots of money (More TV revenue, donations, etc…). That’s what Mizzou is getting with the move to the SEC.

What remains to be seen is how Mizzou Athletics will perform in the Southeastern Conference.

And more specifically, can Mizzou football compete in the strongest, deepest football conference in the nation?

There are some who think the Tigers are in for a rude awakening in the SEC (SEC fans), and there are those that believe Mizzou has a good chance to make some noise in the SEC East right away.

We’re about to find out.

But what about the long term for Mizzou in the SEC?

Well so far the move to the SEC has already paid dividends in recruiting. With more national exposure and just being in the most prestigious conference in the country, Mizzou should recruit better than they ever have before. Gary Pinkel and his staff are already delving into the state of Georgia and should get their foot in other SEC states like Florida and Alabama.

Some fear the Tigers will lose a lot of recruits in the state of Texas, a state where Mizzou has nabbed a lot of great players in the past decade (Daniel, Spoon, Alexander, etc…). Mizzou’s exposure in Texas will decrease significantly with only one Texas team in the SEC in Texas A&M, but they will still have a presence there. But while they won’t get near as many recruits from the Lone Star state as they have been, it’s looking like the Tigers will make up for that with recruits from their own backyard.

Local recruiting has received a big boost with the move to the SEC. 10 of the 14 recruits that have committed to Mizzou for 2013 are from the state of Missouri. Three are from Kansas City and they include Lee’s Summit West linebacker Nick Ramirez (****) Hogan Prep cornerback Anthony Sherrils (***) and Staley quarterback Trent Hosick (***). Mizzou also has a commitment running back Chase Abbington (****) from St.Peters, MO. In the SEC, it’s all about the battle in the trenches and Mizzou has commits from several high profile offensive linemen recruits in Jake Campos (****) from Des Moines, Iowa, Clay Rhodes (***) from Stilwell, Kansas, Harneet Gill (***) from St.Charles, MO and Alec Abeln (***) from St.Louis.

It’s definitely a promising 2013 class so far. The move to the SEC and nabbing the #1 recruit in the nation in 2012 in Dorial Green-Beckham has definitely helped out.

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

We’re a week away from embarking on Mizzou’s inaugural season in the SEC.

The beginning of a new era.

Here are your 2012 Missouri Tigers:

Head Coach – Gary Pinkel (12th year: 86-54, 22nd year overall: 158-91-3)

Offensive Coordinator/Assistant HC – David Yost

Defensive Coordinator/Assistant HC – Dave Steckel

Returning Letterman: Offense – 37 Defense – 20

Lettermen Lost: 22

OFFENSE

2011 Team Statistical Rankings (Out of 120 D1 Teams):

Yards/Game – 475.5 (12th)

Pass Yards/Game – 240.6 (64th)

Rush Yards/Game – 244.0 (9th)

Points/Game – 32.8 (30th)

QB: JAMES FRANKLIN – Jr (2011: 238/376 (63%), 2,865 yds (7.6), 21 TD, 11 INT, 217 carries, 981 yds, 15 TD), Corbin Berkstresser – RS Fr, Maty Mauk – Fr

Brad Smith. Chase Daniel. Blaine Gabbert. And now, James Franklin. I think it’s safe to say Mizzou fans have been spoiled when it comes to the quarterback position the last decade. Franklin, who had a very productive sophomore season in his first year as starting quarterback for the Tigers, looks to make the next jump in Mizzou’s first season in the SEC. The 6’2, 225lb junior from Corinth, Texas was one of the best dual threat quarterbacks in the country last season and enters the SEC as one of the best quarterbacks in the league along with Aaron Murray of Georgia and Tyler Bray of Tennessee.

Franklin completed 63% of his passes, 7.6 yards per pass and 21 touchdowns in 2011 and only threw 11 interceptions, six in two games (Oklahoma St. & Kansas). James also ran the ball 217 times for 981 yards and 15 TD. Franklin had his share of struggles as all first year quarterbacks do, but to put up the numbers he did and go 8-5 in his first season against one of the toughest schedules in the nation was very impressive.

Going into the SEC, Franklin must become more consistent as a passer. Rushing yards will not come as easy against the physical defenses down south and Franklin is coming off surgery in March to repair a torn labrum in his throwing shoulder. While Franklin looks to be 100%, it would probably be wise to lessen his carries this season.

Backing up Franklin is redshirt freshman Corbin Berkstresser, who took first teams snaps in Franklin’s absence during the spring. Behind Berkstresser is the only remaining scholarship quarterback left on the team after Ashton Glaser transferred to Missouri State, freshman Maty Mauk. The Kenton, Ohio gunslinger is the all-time leading passer in high school football history and has already impressed in fall camp.

James Franklin is the most important player on the team, not only because he’s the quarterback, but because he’s such a vital part of the running attack as well. He’s also a great leader and looks to have “it”. Can he improve in the passing game? While he definitely showed flashes of being a very good passer in his first season, he needs to become more consistent this year and not let mistakes continue to bother him throughout the course of a game. He’s definitely got the weapons around him. Will he take the next step?

RB: KENDIAL LAWRENCE – Sr (2011: 119 carries, 566 yds (4.8), 5 TD), Marcus Murphy – RS So, Russell Hansbrough – Fr, Morgan Steward – Fr, Jared Culver – RS Sr, Greg White – RS So, Tyler Hunt – So, Henry Josey – Jr (OUT FOR SEASON)

When sophomore Marcus Murphy was lost for the season before it began and Kendial Lawrence and De’Vion Moore were hurt and out early on, it didn’t look so good for the Tiger rushing attack in 2011. Enter Henry Josey. 145 carries, 1,168 yards (8.1 yards per carry!!!), and 9 touchdowns. Josey was one of the best running backs in the nation, rushing for over 100 yards in 7 of his last 8 games and finishing second in the country in yards per carry.

Josey was a great story but the story ended horrifically in mid-November when he suffered the dreaded “Triple Tear” against Texas in Columbia. Josey tore his ACL, MCL and patellar tendon in his left knee and will miss the entire 2012 season while he recovers from a “one in a million” type injury.

In Josey’s place is senior tailback Kendial Lawrence, who was #1 on the depth chart heading into last season before breaking his left fibula in the season opener which caused him to miss a month and led the way for Josey to explode on the scene. The 5’9, 190lb jitterbug from Rockwall, Texas improved greatly during the second half of the season and after taking over for Josey. It looked like Lawrence was more decisive in hitting the holes and ran downfield instead of side to side more often. Lawrence is more quick and shifty than fast, but he’s got plenty of speed. He’s just not as explosive and fast as Mr. Josey.

The second back on the depth chart is redshirt sophomore Marcus Murphy who missed all of 2011 with a shoulder injury. Murphy has a similar build to Josey and while not as fast, he’s just as decisive and has great vision. There were reports that Murphy was the best looking back in spring and fall camp last year and it looks like he’s fully recovered and ready to shine in 2012.

Freshmen Russell Hansbrough and Morgan Steward could both avoid the redshirt and play this season, especially Hansbrough who was actually up to 3rd on the depth chart during fall camp. Hansbrough is another small back at only 5’9, 180lbs, but he’s got quickness and speed to burn. Steward is a little bigger than Lawrence, Murphy and Hansbrough and looks like another Derrick Washington for the Tigers down the road.

WR-X: MARCUS LUCAS – Jr (2011: 23 catches, 414 yds, 5 TD) Rolandis Woodland – Sr, Wesley Leftwich – RS Fr

WR-H: T.J. MOE – Sr (2011: 54 catches, 649 yds, 4 TD), Jimmie Hunt – RS So, Gahn McGaffie – Sr, Levi Copelin – Fr, Kerwin Stricker – RS Jr

WR-Y: L’DAMIAN WASHINGTON – RS Jr (2011: 20 catches, 364 yds, 3 TD), Bud Sasser – RS So, Jaleel Clark – RS Jr, Joe Plevel – RS Sr

TE: DORIAL GREEN-BECKHAM  – Fr, Eric Waters – Jr, Sean Culkin – Fr, Brandon Holifield – Fr

I’m just going to lump all of the receivers into one if you don’t mind. And yes, Missouri tight ends are basically slot receivers in the Tigers’ spread attack.

Remember all of the weapons Chase Daniel had at his disposal in 2007? Jeremy Maclin, Chase Coffman, Martin Rucker, Danario Alexander, Will Franklin, Tommy Saunders, Jared Perry, Tony Temple. That offense was just loaded with playmakers.

While the weapons for James Franklin in 2012 aren’t nearly as proven, the ceiling for them might be just as high.

The most experienced receiver back is senior T.J. Moe. Moe is just two seasons removed from a 92 catch 2010 campaign, but his numbers dropped a bit last year with first year starter James Franklin because the Tigers ran the ball a lot more. He just didn’t have near as many opportunities. But Moe is as reliable as they come out of the slot and will be one of Franklin’s main go-to guys once again this year.

Marcus Lucas, the junior from Liberty, Missouri, is one of the most intriguing players on the roster. At 6’5, 215lbs, Lucas has a big frame and great body control to go along with good hands and deceptively good speed. Lucas showed his ability to go up and get it several times last season, especially in the end zone where he had five touchdowns on the year, all which seemed to be crucial scores in the game at the time. Lucas looks to take another step and he’ll need to with the move to the SEC. Because of Missouri’s running attack and the amount of weapons around Lucas, his numbers might not reflect a big leap simply because there aren’t enough balls to go around. There’s no doubt though that Lucas is a playmaker and has the tools to be one of the best wide receivers in the SEC.

Another junior looking to take that next step is L’Damian Washington. The 6’4, 195lb downfield threat from Shreveport, Louisiana is another promising weapon with good size and speed. Washington made several big plays down the middle of the field last year and improved as a blocker as the year went on. Washington will get a lot of single coverage over the middle this season with the weapons around him; will he take advantage of it?

And then there’s that DGB guy…

Dorial Green-Beckham. THE #1 recruit in the nation. The 6’6, 220lb, all-time leading receiver in high school history from Springfield, Missouri. Yeah, that guy.

On February 1st, Green-Beckham chose the hometown Missouri Tigers over the Arkansas Razorbacks and everyone else on National Signing Day in front of a national TV audience.

Obviously it was a big moment for DGB and his family, but it was also a big deal for Mizzou football. To land the #1 recruit in the nation is a very big deal for a program like Mizzou, especially going into the SEC. DGB is obviously the program’s highest rated recruit ever and landing the #1 overall recruit has already helped out with Mizzou’s future recruiting endeavors.

So what are Gary Pinkel and the Tigers getting in DGB? Oh just your average, run of the mill 6’6, 220lb track star and freakish athlete of a receiver.

Green-Beckham has been dubbed as the best wide receiver prospect in years. He’s drawn comparisons to Calvin Johnson and a mix of Julio Jones and A.J. Green just to name a few. He’s a big, strong, tall, rangy receiver with the speed and quickness of a smaller receiver. DGB possesses strong hands, great body control, a mammoth wingspan and has shown the ability to go up and get the ball at its highest point, therefore he is a complete mismatch on jump balls even against taller corners. For a bigger receiver, DGB is unusually very fluid in his movements and shows rare flexibility and elusiveness for a player his size. He’s already a very physical receiver and the former high school track star possesses explosive speed and acceleration off the line and should be a major deep threat right away for the Tigers.

Green-Beckham will have to improve his route running like all receivers coming out of high school do and he’ll have to adjust to the speed of the college game, but he should be an immediate contributor in Missouri’s spread attack. He’s already flashed greatness in fall camp and the coaches have moved him to the tight end position, which is really just a slot receiver in Mizzou’s offense. But DGB will line up all over the field this season, not just in the slot. It will be very interesting to see how ready he is for primetime when the Georgia Bulldogs come to town September 8th for Mizzou’s first SEC game.

Behind Moe, Lucas, Washington and DGB are several promising young playmakers ready to break out this season.

Redshirt sophomores Jimmie Hunt and Bud Sasser are two very impressive athletes that could play themselves into the receiver rotation this year. Hunt, a former 4 star recruit, possesses blazing speed and good size at 6’1, 195lbs.

Sasser is a very intriguing prospect with his size. At 6’3, 220lbs, Sasser is another tall, rangy receiver with some speed and athleticism and a potential threat in the red zone along with Lucas and DGB. Both Hunt and Sasser need to improve their blocking and hands if they want to contribute, but they have both flashed during fall camp and should get more looks this season with Michael Egnew, Wes Kemp and Jerrell Jackson graduating.

Tight end Eric Waters should get on the field a lot as well, especially on running plays. Freshman Sean Culkin is another intriguing prospect and could avoid the redshirt to provide some depth at tight end this season.

Overall, the Tigers bring one of the tallest and best receiving corps in the nation to the SEC, and some of the best collection of talent at the skill positions at Mizzou since the Chase Daniel days.

LT: ELVIS FISHER – RS Sr, Anthony Gatti – RS So, Jordan Williams – Fr, Mitch Hall – RS Fr

LG: EVAN BOEHM – Fr, Max Copeland – RS Jr, Stephen Carberry – RS So, Mitch Hall – RS Fr, Travis Ruth – RS Sr (OUT FOR SEASON)

C: MITCH MORSE – RS So, Brad McNulty – RS Fr, Robert Luce – RS So

RG: JACK MEINERS – Sr, Nick Demien – RS So, Connor McGovern – RS Fr, Kyle Starke – RS Fr

RT: JUSTIN BRITT – RS Jr, Michael Boddie – RS Fr, Chris Freeman – RS So, Taylor Chappell – RS Fr (OUT FOR SEASON)

Probably the biggest difference between the SEC and the rest of the conferences is the line play. The linemen down south are just bigger, stronger and more athletic than the rest of the country and that is a big reason why the SEC has won six straight National Championships. That doesn’t mean there aren’t very good offensive and defensive lines outside of the SEC however.

Mizzou welcomes back senior left tackle Elvis Fisher with open arms after missing all of 2011 after rupturing his patellar tendon in his left knee during fall camp. Getting Fisher back for the Tigers’ inaugural season in the SEC is huge. With him back, last year’s left tackle Justin Britt moves back to right tackle and with a full year of experience on the other side, Britt should complete one of the best tackle duos in the country.

However there is concern on the interior of the offensive line for the Tigers. Mizzou has to replace both starting guards with Austin Wuebbels and Jayson Palmgren graduating and the line has already suffered several injuries in fall camp. Most noticeably is senior guard/center Travis Ruth who will miss all of 2012 after he tore his triceps in practice. Mizzou’s third tackle Taylor Chappell will also miss the season after tearing his left ACL during fall camp. Those are two big losses for Mizzou going into their first season in the SEC. To make things worse, the strongest player on the team and starting right guard Jack Meiners went down with an apparent knee injury in the Tigers’ third and final scrimmage last week. The extent of the injury is not yet known.

Replacing Wuebbels, Palmgren, and now Ruth and possibly Meiners at guard will be redshirt junior Max Copeland and incoming freshman Evan Boehm. Copeland has really impressed during camp and so has the 4 star recruit Boehm who will most likely be forced into the starting lineup right away. Stepping in at center is redshirt sophomore Mitch Morse who has too looked good in fall camp.

Overall, depth is an issue on the offensive line with the wrath of injuries before the season has even started. The tackles look great, but the interior of the line is a concern right now with the lack of experience.

DEFENSE

2011 Team Statistical Rankings (Out of 120 D1 Teams)

Yards/Game Allowed – 383.2 (64th)

Pass Yards/Game Allowed – 247.3 (97th)

Rush Yards/Game Allowed – 135.0 (45th)

Points/Game Allowed – 23.5 (44th)

DE: BRAD MADISON – RS Sr (2011: 21 tackles, 4 TFL, 4.5 sacks, 1 INT, 1 FF), Michael Sam – RS Jr (2011: 22.5 tackles, 1.5 TFL, 1.5 sacks, 1 INT), Rickey Hatley – Fr, Clayton Echard – RS Fr, Keric Lickerman – RS Fr

DE: KONY EALY – RS So (2011: 9.5 tackles, 2 TFL, 1 sack), Brayden Burnett – RS Jr (2011: 12 tackles, 4 TFL, 2.5 sacks, 1 FF), Shane Ray – RS Fr, Derrion Thomas – So, Steven Mack – So

DT: SHELDON RICHARDSON – RS Jr (2011: 26 tackles, 6 TFL, 2 sacks, 1 FF), Marvin Foster – RS Jr, Evan Winston – Fr,

NG: LUCAS VINCENT– RS So (2011: 7 tackles, 2 TFL), Matt Hoch – RS So, Jimmy Burge – RS Sr, Harold Brantley – Fr, David Butler – Jr

The same can be said about the Tigers’ defensive line. The ends look like they can make some noise in the SEC, but outside of future NFL defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson, it’s a bunch of unknowns in the interior.

Back at defensive end is senior Brad Madison who dealt with nagging injuries all of last year and was never close to 100%. He’s healthy now and should look more like the Madison of 2010 this season. Opposite him will be either junior Michael Sam or very promising sophomore Kony Ealy. Ealy has much higher upside than Sam, but Sam has more experience and has shown the ability to be a very good pass rusher with his athleticism. Ealy possesses that great first step and burst off the line and has drawn comparisons to former Mizzou great Aldon Smith. Ealy’s explosiveness and athleticism should start to show more often this season with a year of experience under his belt. Madison, Ealy and Sam are a very solid group of defensive ends with some good depth behind them in junior Brayden Burnett and freshmen Shane Ray and Rickey Hatley.

Anchoring the middle of the line is the 6’4, 300lb junior from St.Louis, Sheldon Richardson. Richardson was Mizzou’s highest rated recruit ever at #4 overall in 2009 before DGB came onto the scene. Sheldon had to go the JUCO route for two seasons before finally getting on campus in time for the 2011 season. Earlier this year, Richardson was granted another year of eligibility with a medical hardship for his sophomore year in junior college, so instead of being a senior this season, he’s still a junior.

But if Richardson plays like he did the second half of last year, he will most likely go pro after this season. Big Sheldon became a dominate force down the stretch last year as he became more comfortable against college competition. He was almost unblockable and routinely created havoc in opponent’s backfields. Richardson possesses rare athleticism and quickness for his size and should become one of the best defensive linemen in the nation this season. He probably is the best player on the defensive side of the ball.

Lining up beside Richardson should be sophomore Lucas Vincent, who really impressed during the spring. However Vincent has missed a lot of time during fall camp and sophomore Matt Hoch could begin the season as the starting nose tackle. Hoch has put on a lot of weight since coming to Mizzou as a tight end and has impressed during fall practices. Behind Vincent and Hoch is junior Marvin Foster, who has been plagued by injuries his entire career, and seniors Jimmy Burge and George White.

Depth is an issue at defensive tackle. Replacing starters Dominique Hamilton and Terrell Resonno will be tough to do right away. Hopefully Vincent can get healthy and Hoch can continue to impress on the inside. Big Sheldon should make everyone’s job a little easier this season.

LB-W: ZAVIER GOODEN – RS Sr (2011: 67 tackles, 5 TFL, 1 sack, 2 INT), Darvin Ruise – RS So, Torey Boozer – Fr, Donavin Newsom – Fr

LB-M: WILL EBNER – RS Sr, Donovan Bonner – RS Jr, Michael Scherer – Fr, Jared Parham – RS So

LB-S: ANDREW WILSON – RS Jr (2011: 72.5 tackles, 9 TFL, .5 sacks, 1 FF), Kentrell Brothers – RS Fr, Markus Golden – Jr, Clarence Green – RS Fr

The linebackers are the strength of Mizzou’s defense. It all starts with senior outside linebacker Zavier Gooden, who will be a pro after this year. Gooden has put together two very good seasons in a row and should have a monster 2012 going up against more traditional, run-based offenses in the SEC. Gooden possesses good size, athleticism and speed and is a very good tackler with a nose for the ball.

On the other side is junior thumper Andrew Wilson. Wilson was all over the field in 2011 and was very good against the run. At 6’3, 235lbs, Wilson should thrive in the SEC with his physical play. So should senior middle linebacker Will Ebner, if he can stay healthy. Ebner missed all of 2011 with a concussion and has missed a lot of 2010 with neck and foot injuries. Ebner is a hard hitting force in the middle and if he can stay on the field, it will make the Tigers’ run defense much better.

But if Ebner struggles to stay healthy, Mizzou has plenty of promising depth behind him. Junior Donovan Bonner, who too has struggled to stay on the field in his time as a Tiger, will back up Ebner this season. Bonner has great upside but hasn’t come close to tapping into it because of injuries. Freshman Michael Scherer could be a candidate to get some playing time right away, as he has looked very good in fall camp. Scherer will be a future starter for the Tigers if he can stay relatively healthy.

The depth behind Gooden and Wilson at outside linebacker is impressive. Sophomore Darvin Ruise  has plenty of potential and looks like a safety/linebacker hybrid. Ruise could take over for Gooden after this season. Another backer who has impressed during practices is redshirt freshman Kentrell Brothers. Brothers has a lot of potential as well with his ability to take on blockers at the point of attack, which will serve him well in the SEC.

And then there’s freshmen Torey Boozer and Donavin Newsom. They both have a lot of upside, but arrived late to fall camp and will probably be slapped with the redshirt for their freshmen seasons.

CB: E.J. GAINES – Jr (2011: 59 tackles, 3 TFL, 2 INT, 16 passes defended), Xavier Smith – RS So, David Johnson – RS Fr, John Gibson – Fr

CB: KIP EDWARDS – RS Sr (2011: 46.5 tackles, .5 TFL, 1 INT, 2 FF, 3 passes defended), Randy Ponder – RS Jr (31 tackles, 1 INT, 1 FF, 4 passes defended), Ernest Payton – RS Fr, Chaston Ward – Fr

SS: KENRONTE WALKER – RS Sr (2011: 33 tackles, 1 sack, 1 FR), Ian Simon – RS Fr, Daniel Easterly – RS So, Tyler Davis – RS Jr

FS: BRAYLON WEBB – RS So (2011: 28 tackles, 1 FR), Matt White – RS Jr (2011: 37.5 tackles, 1.5 TFL, 4 passes defended), Cortland Browning – RS Fr, Ka’ra Stewart – Fr

The secondary is led by All-Conference corner E.J. Gaines. The 5’11, 190lb junior from Independence, Missouri was one of the best corners in the country last season and definitely the Tigers’ best cover corner in quite some time. Gaines is a very athletic corner with very good speed and ball skills to go along with his great instincts. He’s also a very reliable tackler in run support and should get even better overall in his junior season. You could make an argument that Gaines is the best defensive player on the team.

Opposite him is the experienced Kip Edwards. The senior from Arlington, Texas had a solid season last year and hopes to have the kind of senior season that Kevin Rutland, now of the Jacksonville Jaguars, had in 2010. Edwards has good size and faced a lot of bigger receivers opposite Gaines last season. The #3 and nickel corner for Mizzou is junior Randy Ponder who came out of nowhere last season. At 5’10, 195lbs, Ponder is a lot more physical than you’d think with his size.

With senior Robert Steeples transferring this offseason, sophomore Xavier Smith and redshirt freshmen Earnest Payton and David Johnson will be counted on to provide some depth at the corner position this season. Payton, at 6’3, 200lbs, possesses great size at corner and is oozing with potential. He could be a candidate to replace Edwards next season. Two promising incoming freshmen in Chaston Ward and John Gibson could both be redshirted this season, but Gibson especially has all the tools of a future cover corner.

The safety position might be the biggest question mark for Mizzou’s defense this season. The Tigers have to replace the steady Kenji Jackson, and it looks like 2010 JUCO transfer Kenronte Walker will be the senior leader at safety. Walker improved as the season went on last year and looked good against the run. With the move to the SEC, Mizzou’s safeties will play less in coverage and more in run support, which plays into Walker’s strengths. Another safety that improved as the season went on was sophomore Braylon Webb, who should get the start at free safety next to Walker. Webb is probably the fastest and rangiest of the safeties and should get better as a sophomore.

Junior Matt White and sophomore Daniel Easterly should back up Walker and Webb, but redshirt freshman Ian Simon had a very good spring camp and has looked good in fall practices so far, so he could jump Easterly on the depth chart.

Overall, the cornerback position looks very good with Gaines, Edwards and Ponder, but the safety spots are an unknown at this point, although it looks like Walker and Webb could be very solid on the back end.

SPECIAL TEAMS

PK: TREY BARROW – RS Sr, Andrew Baggett – RS Fr

P: TREY BARROW – RS Sr, Christian Brinser – RS So

KR: MARCUS MURPHY – RS So, T.J. Moe – Sr

PR: T.J. MOE – Sr, Marcus Murphy – RS So

With kicker Grant Ressel completely falling apart last season, redshirt senior Trey Barrow took over and did a solid job replacing him. He should get the nod at both kicker and punter this season, although Baggett has looked promising in fall practices. Marcus Murphy is in line to return kicks with T.J. Moe returning as the punt returner. Murphy definitely has the speed and vision to take one back to the house at any time. Mizzou’s return coverage definitely improved last year and should look even better with kickoffs moving up to the 35 yard line this season.

2012 SCHEDULE:

9/1 SOUTHEASTERN LOUISIANA (Band Day)

9/8 GEORGIA (Gold Rush)

9/15 ARIZONA ST. (Family Weekend)

9/22 @ South Carolina

9/29 @ Central Florida

10/6 VANDERBILT

10/13 ALABAMA

10/27 KENTUCKY (Homecoming)

11/3 @ Florida

11/10 @ Tennessee

11/17 SYRACUSE (Blackout/Salute To America)

11/24 @ Texas A&M

Obviously when you join the strongest and deepest conference in the country, your schedule is going to be tough. Fortunately for Mizzou, they’re in the SEC East and not the SEC West like Texas A&M. Although it goes in cycles, the SEC West has been the much tougher division in the SEC the last five or six seasons.

Alabama, LSU and Auburn have all won National titles the last five years (Bama twice) and Arkansas has never been better (Minus the whole Petrino ordeal). Although Florida won a National title with that Tebow guy not too long ago, the Gators have had two lackluster seasons in a row. Georgia has been consistently good, but not National Championship good. South Carolina has continued to get better every year under Steve Spurrier, but still a notch below Bama and LSU. And Tennessee hasn’t been the same for a while now and their head coach is on the hot seat this year.

The SEC East is definitely the easier division to compete in. But it’s still the SEC and it’s going to be a grind.

However, Mizzou faced one of the toughest schedules in the country last season. The Tigers had to go up against six ranked teams (Oklahoma St, Oklahoma, Kansas St, Baylor, Texas & Texas A&M) with a first year quarterback and finished 8-5 on the year. There are more elite teams in the SEC on a year to year basis, and the lesser teams in the SEC are usually better than the lesser teams the Big 12 has had as of late (Kansas, Colorado, Iowa St, etc…). But there’s no reason to think a program like Mizzou can’t compete with the likes of Vanderbilt, Kentucky, Ole Miss and Mississippi St. And over the last six seasons, Mizzou has been better or on par with programs like Tennessee, South Carolina, Georgia and even Florida over the last two years. Minus the Cam Newton National title year in 2010, Mizzou has been just as good as Auburn too and the Tigers dominated Arkansas in the 2007 Cotton Bowl.

While the SEC is a tougher league top to bottom, it’s not like Mizzou has been facing high school competition. The Tigers are coming from arguably the second best conference in the nation the last decade in the Big 12 and have done well against SEC competition in the past.

2012 kicks off at Faurot Field against Southeastern Louisiana on September 1st in what should be the easiest game of the year for the Tigers. But they can’t look ahead to what’s coming the next week.

Arguably one of the most anticipated and hyped up regular season games in the history of Mizzou football comes a week later when the #6 Georgia Bulldogs come to Columbia for the Tigers’ first SEC game. The atmosphere and noise in Memorial Stadium will probably exceed what it was against #1 Oklahoma in 2010 and Nebraska in 2007. It is going to be CRAZY.

The Bulldogs are the overwhelming SEC East favorites, in large part because of an easier schedule as they avoid Alabama, LSU and Arkansas this season. This is a monstrous game for Mizzou for several reasons and a win here would set the tone for the entire season.

The Tigers stay home the next week against Arizona St as they look for revenge from last season’s 37-30 overtime defeat in Tempe. The Tigers then finally leave the state of Missouri for their first road game of the season against the #9 South Carolina Gamecocks. This will be one of the toughest games of the season as South Carolina is easily Georgia’s main competition for the SEC East crown.

Mizzou hits the road again in week five as they’ll head to Orlando to play a very dangerous Central Florida team. The Tigers return home the next week to welcome Vanderbilt to Columbia, a game Missouri should win. But once again, they can’t look ahead to who’s next. And who’s next? Oh just the #2 team in the country and the 2011 National Champions. This should be the toughest game of the season for Mizzou as Alabama is primed and ready to repeat as National Champions again this season.

Thankfully for the Tigers, they will get a bye week after what should be a very physical game with the Tide. After two weeks off, Mizzou gets the Kentucky Wildcats at Faurot Field for Homecoming in the Tigers’ last home SEC game of the season. Mizzou is then faced with two straight tough road games at Florida and Tennessee. It will be the programs’ first time playing in Gainesville and Knoxville.

After two difficult road contests, Mizzou returns home for their final game at Memorial Stadium and final non-conference game of the year against Syracuse before heading back on the road to end the regular season against a familiar foe in former Big 12 conference mate Texas A&M. It will be the third straight season the Tigers will play the Aggies in College Station (won previous two).

SEASON PREDICTION: 7-5 (4-4 & 4th in SEC East)

If the 2012 Missouri Tigers can finish 7-5 and 4-4 in league play in their first season in the SEC, I think most fans would be happy with that. The Tigers finished 7-5 last year before destroying North Carolina in the Independence Bowl to get to 8 wins on the season. It seems like a lot of Missouri fans however are hoping for 8-4 at the least and I can definitely see that happening if everything goes right. Mizzou will have to beat Georgia however for that to happen, if not, it looks like 7-5 would be an ideal record to hope for with a chance for 8 wins with a bowl victory.

No matter what, it’s going to be a very exciting inaugural season in the SEC for Mizzou and their fans. And we’re only a few days away from beginning a new era in Mizzou Athletics.

Grab your popcorn, Tiger fans.

M-I-Z-S-E-C!