The Missouri Tigers are heading into the 2019 season with a lot of expectations. New QB Kelly Bryant is leading an offense with plenty of returning talent, and the defense has some key players back as well.

Coach Barry Odom has led the Tigers to bowl games the past 2 years, but they lost both. With OC Derek Dooley and DC Ryan Walters both back, the stability in the coaching ranks is solid, so we’ll see how that translates this fall.

Heading into the 2019 season, there are still a few concerns that I have about the Tigers. Here, we’ll look at the 5 biggest:

1. What happens if the NCAA doesn’t reverse its bowl ban?

The Tigers will enter the 2019 campaign with a chip on their shoulders. This offseason, they learned they had been banned from postseason play for 1 year for a tutor scandal that occurred before most of these players were on the roster. Then, they had to endure other teams trying to poach seniors to play right away at postseason-eligible schools.

Mizzou has bonded through that adversity, but what happens if the NCAA doesn’t #MakeItRight? The mental anguish that would occur in Columbia if the ban is upheld would cast a dark cloud over the entire 2019 season.

Yes, this team has a chance to be special, but if the Tigers know they’re not playing for a postseason berth, it might be tough to get amped up for the big games. Plus, it would certainly have an impact on the home crowd.

This could all be rendered moot soon, but the appeals process also could take into mid-September, and learning that a ban has been upheld partway through the season would be devastating.

2. How will the secondary tighten up?

Mizzou allowed more passing yards per game in 2018 than Ole Miss. Let that sink in for a minute. Mizzou gave up 262 yards through the air per game, compared to 261.7 for the Rebels.

Now, the Tigers have to replace Cam Hilton, who made a few nice plays toward the end of last season but also allowed some long passes earlier in the year. To do that, they landed 4-star S Jalani Williams as the headliner of their 2019 class, but he missed the spring with a foot injury.

If a guy like Joshuah Bledsoe can step up and make plays this fall, the secondary will benefit from it. He had 27 tackles and 2 pass breakups in 2018 and is listed as the team’s starting free safety. Having CB Adam Sparks back at full strength after he battled injuries all season will also be nice. He’ll team with Christian Holmes and DeMarkus Acy at the corner position to form what should be a competent group.

3. Can they handle the pressure of a potentially great season?

If the bowl ban is lifted (as discussed above), Mizzou could be in for a special 2019 season. Its nonconference schedule includes a Week 1 trip to Wyoming, a game at home against a rebuilding West Virginia squad, a matchup with Southeast Missouri State and a Week 6 contest vs. Troy (with the Tigers coming back after an off week). That should be very manageable.

Then, also in the first 8 games of the year, they play South Carolina and Ole Miss at Faurot Field and travel to play Vanderbilt and Kentucky. Theoretically, they could be 8-0 heading into a November showdown at Georgia.

Odom has said he welcomes the pressure on his team, but the Tigers haven’t been in any sort of SEC East contention since 2014. This year could be huge for the program. Can they handle that sort of pressure?

4. Will Kelly Bryant improve as a deep passer?

A large part of the Tigers’ 2018 offense involved Drew Lock chucking the ball 50-plus yards downfield to an often wide-open Emanuel Hall. Both guys are gone, so OC Derek Dooley will have to tweak his system a bit.

Bryant is a talented quarterback, but his strengths are understandably a bit different from Lock’s. Bryant thrives on short throws and does OK on intermediate passes, but his deep game leaves a lot to be desired:

However, he adds a threat to the running game that Lock didn’t. Having a quarterback who can take off at any time frees up a lot of those short and intermediate throws, and that’s where Bryant has had success at Clemson.

If Dooley can work with him this fall and get him more comfortable with deep drops from the pocket, the Mizzou offense will be even more dangerous.

5. Can they get a spark from the return game?

Mizzou averaged an SEC-low 2.6 yards per punt return in 2018. That’s … well, that’s not good. The kickoff return game wasn’t much better, finishing No. 12 in the SEC at 19.7 yards per return.

RB Tyler Badie handled most of the kickoff returns last year, with WR Johnathon Johnson taking care of the punt returns. Both are back, but the Tigers should look elsewhere for their return needs.

That’s because WR-turned-DB Richaud Floyd should be healthy again. In 2017, he returned 2 punts for touchdowns and averaged an impressive 19.8 yards per return. He’s a natural return man, so he’ll likely get the first crack at the jobs this season.