The Missouri Tigers looked like one of the worst teams in the entire country through the first six games of the 2017 season, but then had one of the most-impressive second-half turnarounds of any team in recent memory.

Yes, the Tigers lost their bowl game to Texas, but there’s still a lot of reason for optimism in Columbia heading into 2018.

From the return of a star quarterback to a defense that should continue its upward trend, there are plenty of reasons to watch the Tigers next year.

So, who will take over as the face of the program next season? Here are five candidates to be Mizzou’s most-talked-about personality when the 2018 campaign gets underway:

1. Drew Lock, QB

With Josh Rosen, Sam Darnold, Josh Allen and Lamar Jackson, among others, all declaring early, it made a lot of sense for Lock to return for his senior season, which he announced he’d do Tuesday night.

Heading into 2018, he should get some serious Heisman Trophy buzz, as he led the nation in touchdown passes in 2017, setting an SEC record with 44.

He’ll need to improve his decision-making and accuracy, and the Tigers will need to win more than seven games, but Lock could have a special year and leave as one of the SEC’s most dominant quarterbacks statistically.

QB
Career passing yards
1. Aaron Murray
13,166
2. David Greene
11,528
3. Chris Leak
11,213
20. Drew Lock
8,695
QB
Career TD passes
1. Aaron Murray
121
2. Danny Wuerffel
114
3. Peyton Manning
89
16. Drew Lock
71

2. Derek Dooley, offensive coordinator

The Tigers made a very questionable hire when they brought in former Tennessee head coach Derek Dooley to run their offense. Dooley not only had a disastrous tenure as the Vols’ head coach, but was also potentially on his way out as the Dallas Cowboys’ WR coach.

However, coach Barry Odom clearly likes something about Dooley, so he brought him to Columbia to serve as Mizzou’s offensive coordinator.

Josh Heupel is off to replace Scott Frost as UCF’s head coach, so it’ll be interesting to see if the Tigers keep his fast-paced style of play or if they go back to a more traditional style of play.

3. Terry Beckner Jr., DL

As mentioned above, the Tigers’ defense was much better during the second half of the 2017 season, and it’ll be imperative for them to continue to improve on that side of the ball.

Beckner is a huge part of that, as he’s already announced he’ll return for his senior season. He has a chance to be a first-round pick in the 2019 NFL Draft, and continuing to play well in the middle of the Mizzou defense will only help him work his way up draft boards.

4. Damarea Crockett, RB

Crockett had a rough 2017 season, battling injuries all year as he struggled to match his breakout freshman season.

However, he is still an explosive runner when he’s healthy, and he and rising sophomore Larry Rountree III should be a great tandem for the Tigers in 2018.

We don’t know what Dooley’s offense will look like just yet, but Crockett could end up being a great fit and could become one of the SEC’s top backs.

5. Albert Okwuegbunam, TE

The redshirt freshman tight end became a huge threat in the red zone this year, recording a team-leading 11 touchdowns on only 29 total receptions.

At 6-5 and 260 pounds, Albert O is exactly the kind of matchup nightmare opposing defenses fear down near the goal line, but he also has enough skills as a receiver to be a threat over the middle of the field.

Next year could be a big one for the massive tight end, and it’ll be interesting to see what sorts of plays Dooley draw up to get him the ball.