Around the SEC: Missouri
Editor’s note: Missouri takes us to part 11 of a 16-part series, examining every team in the SEC, plus three bonuses, correlating with the three FBS Ole Miss non-conference games. We’ll preview one school nearly every day, alphabetically, until all 16 are completed. Earlier this week, we previewed Mississippi State and the Egg Bowl. Today, the Missouri Tigers. For each of the schools in the series, see the bottom of the article.
2018 Season Overview:
8-5 (4-4 in the SEC), Lost to No. 24 Oklahoma State 33-38 in the Liberty Bowl
The Big Three:
Kelly Bryant, QB
Larry Rountree III, RB
Cale Garrett, LB
There are just four teams in the nation that field quarterbacks with National Championship game experience. The Missouri Tigers are one of those four.
Mizzou quarterback Kelly Bryant, at the time the starting quarterback at Clemson, went 18 of 36 with two interceptions in the 2017 National Championship game against Alabama. Clemson lost that game. Now at Missouri after losing out the Clemson job to Trevor Lawrence, Bryant is hoping to bring that championship-caliber feel to Columbia.
The Tigers will look quite a bit different in 2019 with Bryant. Gone to the NFL is former quarterback Drew Lock, who threw for over 12,000 yards and 99 touchdowns in his Missouri career. But Lock captained the Tigers to just a 4-4 record in 2018, despite having the nation’s No. 8 offense, according to S&P+. Now with Kelly Bryant under center, Mizzou will certainly be more run-heavy team.
Bryant got only one year as a full-time Clemson starter, the 2017 title game run. Bryant set the Clemson first-year starter record with 12 wins. That season, he threw for 2,800 yards but rushed for 655 more; 42-percent of his scores came on the ground. Pairing Bryant’s running game with one of the best returning tailbacks in the nation, Larry Rountree III, could lead to a very dynamic and exciting Missouri offense.
Rountree went for over 1,200 yards on the ground last year, good for fourth in the SEC. In 2019, he’ll surely be a bigger focus on the offense with Lock gone, but he might not even be the best Tiger on the offense. Starting tight end Albert Okwuegbunam was voted preseason first-team All-SEC and has a high chance of being first round pick at tight end a year from now.
Looking at Missouri’s 4-4 record in the SEC, and knowing that they had the nation’s No. 8 offense, it would be reasonable to think the defense was horrendous. Interestingly, that’s not really the case. The Tigers ranked No. 25 in S&P+ defense. They were one of just five SEC schools that ranked in the top-25 on both offense and defense.
Of the 11 defensive starters for the Tigers one year ago, just one was drafted. Missouri’s starting defensive tackle, Terry Beckner, was drafted 215th out of 254 total picks. Do the math: the No. 25 defense is losing just one starter capable of getting drafted, and even that guy barely got drafted in his own right. The Missouri defense is going to be good. Leading the way on that side of the ball is linebacker Cale Garrett and corner DeMarkus Acy. Both were pre-season All-SEC selections and both likely to get drafted much higher than Beckner a year prior.
Based on the numbers, Missouri should be in for some positive regression in 2019. Having a top-25 team, both offensively and defensively, yet finishing just .500 in conference play means you got very unlucky. The passing game will take a step back without Drew Lock, but swapping him with Kelly Bryant makes the run game take a step forward. With very little turnover on the defense, that unit will be good again as well. I think there’s a very good chance the Tigers are being overlooked in the SEC. The Florida v. Missouri game, in Columbia, will likely be for second place in the SEC East.
Prediction: 10-2, 3rd in the SEC East
Prior Around the SEC Previews: