Missouri football: 5 dream/disaster scenarios for 2018 season
The Missouri Tigers lived both their dream and disaster scenarios in 2017, starting an abysmal 1-5 before turning things around and finishing the regular season 7-5.
Heading into 2018, the Tigers will aim to be good more consistently, even though the schedule once again is front-loaded.
Still, there’s plenty of reason for optimism, and it’ll be exciting to see what coach Barry Odom, QB Drew Lock and the Tigers are able to pull off starting next month.
So, what do this year’s dream and disaster scenarios look like? Much like Mizzou’s 2017 season, let’s start with the bad and end with the good:
5 disaster scenarios
1. Drew Lock gets hurt: Yes, the Tigers have plenty of offensive talent, with RBs Larry Rountree III and Damarea Crockett, WRs Emanuel Hall, Johnathon Johnson and others, TE Albert Okwuegbunam and an incredible offensive line, but Lock is the one who makes the Tigers go.
If he goes down, down go the Tigers’ hopes for the 2018 season. But, as mentioned above, Lock has one of the best lines in the SEC returning, and those guys — Paul Adams, Kevin Pendleton, Yasir Durant and others — will do their best to keep their quarterback upright.
2. Derek Dooley’s offense is a dud: When you hire an offensive coordinator who has never called plays, you’re taking a huge leap of faith. However, the Tigers seem to be enjoying Dooley’s system so far.
The defensive players should get a lot more rest, and that will help them turn in a better performance stats-wise simply by not facing as many plays. Whether Lock can continue to be one of the best quarterbacks in the country in the new system remains to be seen.
If Lock and the offense become predictable and fail to take the next step as a unit, things could get ugly really quickly in Columbia. The last thing Odom needs is for Dooley’s offense to take a major step backward.
3. The Tigers start 2-5: Though nothing is certain in college football, Mizzou should take care of business against UT Martin and Wyoming in the first two weeks.
After that, though, things get much harder, as the Tigers’ schedule is brutal from Weeks 3-8:
- Week 3: at Purdue
- Week 4: vs. Georgia
- Week 5: BYE
- Week 6: at South Carolina
- Week 7: at Alabama
- Week 8: vs. Memphis
Memphis can’t be overlooked, as the other Tigers consistently have great offensive squads. The Tigers will need to win at least two of the above games to avoid a total disaster.
4. The defense continues to struggle: Yes, the Tigers’ offense can go toe-to-toe with anyone in the country, but the defense still needs to get stops to win.
The unit figures to spend less time on the field with Dooley running the offense, but if they aren’t productive during their lessened workload, the team will still struggle. The linebacking corps seems to be a strength this year, but there are questions at defensive end and in the secondary.
The bad news is listed above — the Tigers won’t have much time to come together defensively before their toughest stretch starts. This will be a tough job for Odom and DC Ryan Walters, but there are some key players in important places, so they aren’t exactly starting from scratch.
5. No one steps up in the secondary: Even with guys like S Anthony Sherrils, S Thomas Wilson and CB Logan Cheadle in the mix last year, the Tigers finished dead last in the SEC in passing yards allowed per game, giving up an abysmal 254.5 yards per contest.
This year, new guys must emerge, especially at the safety position. If they don’t, teams like Georgia, Purdue, South Carolina and Alabama are going to feast on that weak pass defense.
The Tigers were actually pretty opportunistic last year, though, snagging 12 interceptions to finish fifth in the SEC. They’ll need to do that again this year to make up for the lack of experience.
5 dream scenarios
1. The Tigers upset Georgia or South Carolina: The Tigers have some rough games, including a three-game stretch in four weeks that begins in Week 4 against Georgia. Then, following a bye week, the Tigers head to South Carolina and Alabama in back-to-back weeks.
Perhaps the best chance at an upset comes in Week 6 at South Carolina, as the Tigers will be coming off a bye week. A win there (or a big upset against the Bulldogs at Faurot Field) would give the Tigers a clear shot at second place in the SEC East.
It’s probably too much to ask for Mizzou to win the East with Georgia lurking, but second place would be a solid finish for the Tigers in 2018.
2. Drew Lock again leads the country in touchdown passes: It seems unlikely that Lock will match his 44 touchdowns from 2017 in Dooley’s slower offense, but if he progresses with his mid-range routes and continues to connect on deep shots every now and then, he should have another big year.
The key to Lock’s stats this year will be performing at an elite level against tough defenses. He has struggled at times against some of the SEC’s top defenses, and he’ll face Georgia, Alabama and Florida, among others, in 2018.
If he can put up big numbers in those games (especially with Alabama completely rebuilding its secondary), he could challenge West Virginia’s Will Grier and the nation’s other top quarterbacks again this fall.
3. Emanuel Hall becomes a top-3 SEC receiver: Most people agree that Ole Miss’s AJ Brown and South Carolina’s Deebo Samuel are the SEC’s two top receivers, but after that, it’s wide open.
Hall returns as Mizzou’s No. 1 receiver, stepping into a role that has been held by J’Mon Moore the past two seasons. He’s one of the best deep threats in the country, and if he continues to leave defenders in his dust, he could slide into that No. 3 spot in the conference before all is said and done.
4. The linebacking corps turns into one of the SEC’s best: For the first time in a few years, the Tigers actually have some solid linebackers in the starting lineup. Cale Garrett and Terez Hall were the team’s two leading tacklers last season, and both are back, along with redshirt senior Brandon Lee.
If guys like Aubrey Miller Jr. and Jamal Brooks can provide some depth, the Tigers should have plenty of fresh bodies to rotate into game action.
The defensive line has been the strength for the past several years, but behind DT Terry Beckner Jr., there isn’t much proven depth in 2018. The linebackers are going to have to carry a bigger burden, but Odom has the guys in place to do it.
5. The offensive line continues to dominate: The Tigers return five linemen — Yasir Durant, Kevin Pendleton, Sam Bailey, Jonah Dubinski, Tre’Vour Sims and Paul Adams — with plenty of starting experience.
This is a group that kept Lock upright for most of last season and also cleared the way for the running backs. You need a great line to succeed in college football, and the Tigers had one of the best in 2017.
Now, they return most of the key pieces of a group that blocked for the SEC’s No. 2 passing offense and No. 6 rushing offense. If the unit continues to improve, the Tigers should be in great shape once again on offense.