Missouri football: 10 bold predictions for the 2020 season
Whether it’s the uncertainty to play due to COVID-19, uncertainty of who will start at quarterback, or the uncertainty of how Eliah Drinkwitz’s coaching style will translate to the SEC, 2020 will be a season of uncertainties for Missouri.
But let’s have a little fun here. Let’s assume all goes well and Drinkwitz puts CoMo back on the map. Here are 10 bold (emphasis on bold) predictions for the Tigers’ first year in a new coaching era.
1. Larry Rountree III leads the SEC in rushing
Let’s remember this article is all about bold predictions before everyone in the comments comes in with, “Have you ever heard of Najee Harris?!”
Predicting Rountree (pictured) to top the SEC in rushing is bold, but it’s not out of question by any means.
He rushed for 1,216 yards 2 years ago and 2019 was his only season to average under 5.4 yards per carry. That’s due in part to an oddly-low usage rate the second half of the year (13.8 carries in the final 6 games). Rountree has shown that when he eclipses 15 carries, he’s a monster, averaging 109 yards per game in his career in those games.
With 2020 being his senior season and no Drew Lock or Kelly Bryant-type talent at quarterback, expect Rountree to rack up plenty of carries, as he’s sure to be the focal point of the offense in 2020.
2. Nick Bolton receives 1st-team All-SEC honors
Bolton was a pleasant surprise for Missouri fans in 2019, as the then-sophomore stepped in after injured star linebacker Cale Garrett tore his left pectoral tendon against Troy in Week 5. He led the Tigers with 107 tackles — most in the SEC during the regular season. That included a 4-game stretch against Ole Miss, Vanderbilt, Kentucky and Georgia where he tallied 46. If Bolton continues to progress at the rate he has, he could very well place himself amongst the SEC’s best linebackers.
3. Drinkwitz leads Missouri to above .500 season
Here’s how I see it: The only 4 games I don’t see the Tigers winning are at home against Georgia and Alabama and on the road against Florida and LSU. That being said, it’s not like winning one of those is out of the question.
I could see Missouri going 6-4 while winning one of those games and dropping a disappointing game sometime else in the season (lately, that has been Kentucky). However, if the Tigers steal a win and don’t suffer and disappointing losses, a 7-3 season could be in the cards.
4. Missouri finally gets over the hump and beats Georgia at home
I’ll always remember the 2016 Missouri-Georgia game. It was in Columbia and all signs pointed toward a Tiger win. We were all going nuts in the crowd, but still nervous because the Tigers always seem to break our hearts. Then Georgia scored on a 4th-and-10 with less than 2 minutes to go to take the lead and J’Mon Moore fumbled on a huge play that would have put Missouri deep into Georgia territory with over a minute left. Ugh.
The past 3 years haven’t been quite as close of matchups, but maybe the experience of this team and a new, refreshed outlook with a different coaching staff pays dividends and Drinkwitz does what Barry Odom couldn’t: take out the Bulldogs.
5. Shawn Robinson becomes a top-tier dual-threat QB in the SEC
COVID-19 made Missouri’s quarterback competition between the redshirt junior TCU transfer in Robinson and redshirt freshman Connor Bazelak. The latter looked solid in limited game action last year but tore his ACL in the final game against Arkansas.
Both were 4-star recruits, and both do it in different ways. Robinson is a dual-threat talent, while Bazelak is a pro-style quarterback. Robinson showed plenty of potential to be a dominant dual-threat signal-caller at a Power 5 school should be able to show the country why he was one of the most coveted transfers in the country in 2018.
6. Jalen Knox comes into his own and solidifies himself as the Tigers’ clear-cut No. 1 receiver
Knox came out of the gates hot in his true freshman season in 2018, twice nabbing SEC Freshman of the Week honors for his performances against Purdue (5 catches, 110 yards, 1 TD) and Memphis (5 catches, 104 yards, 1 TD). The speedy receiver from Mansfield, Texas, was on track to become Missouri’s No. 2 option next to Johnathon Johnson in 2019, but a transfer from Jonathan Nance pushed Knox to the slot role, limiting his production.
Jalen Knox's 2019 target heat map. Though the VAST majority of his 31 targets went toward the short right pocket, he owns a top10 Y/T and Explosive Catch Rate amongst returners with at least 15 targets. Knox's 57.1% Deep Catch Rate cracks the top5 pic.twitter.com/X333BbiZxb
— SEC StatCat (@SEC_StatCat) July 17, 2020
While he still was 3rd on the team in receiving yards in 2019 (307 yds), he only found the end zone once — a disappointing sophomore campaign for a player who looked to make a leap. However, 2020 could be his year. Knox already has 2 years of SEC play, and with his speed and versatility, Drinkwitz’s offensive creativity could allow him to thrive. Heck, Drinkwitz even mentioned he might use Knox as a wildcat quarterback — a role he’s familiar with, considering he played quarterback in high school.
Graduate transfer receiver Damon Hazelton looks to be the primary pass-catcher this season, but don’t be surprised if a rejuvenated Knox comes out and surprises everyone with a monster junior year. He can do it out of the slot, as a deep-ball threat, or anywhere in between.
7. Missouri’s secondary allows the fewest passing yards per game in the SEC
Remember, these are supposed to be bold predictions. I don’t necessarily think this will happen, but it’s possible, even after the Tigers added LSU and Alabama. The Tigers return a pair of senior safeties in Tyree Gillespie and Joshuah Bledsoe, who were an active part of a secondary that allowed the 2nd-fewest passing yards per game (179.3 ypg) in the SEC (behind Kentucky) and 6th-fewest in the country.
Their veteran leadership and skill set should allow the experienced, but new starting corners in Adam Sparks and Jarvis Ware to play physically with receivers with no worries if they get beat down the field. The secondary should be a fun unit to watch in 2020, as it could very well be the Tigers’ best group. Don’t be stunned if they subtly finish at the top unit in the SEC.
8. Daniel Parker Jr. fills Albert O’s shoes admirably, leads the SEC in touchdown receptions by a tight end
OK, this one’s really bold, considering Florida’s Kyle Pitts might be the best tight end in the country. But I love Parker and his story, and the dude has some serious potential with his work ethic. He was recruited as a 3-star defensive end out of Blue Springs, but Odom and his staff saw some potential with him at tight end. Parker never took it the wrong way, however, and ran with it. He ran with is so much, he claimed he had the best hands on the team in 2018 after a breakout performance against Vanderbilt.
We got to see what Parker could do in a full-time starting role last year, with Okwuegbunam’s health up in the air. He’s a large target that’s speedier than you’d think for his size. And with how hard he works on his craft, it wouldn’t be the most surprising thing to see him nab upwards of 10 touchdown passes in 2020 as Missouri’s primary red-zone target.
9. Tyler Badie becomes the SEC’s premier kick returner
I’ve been a huge Badie stan since I covered his freshman season in 2018. He’s ridiculously shifty out of the backfield and as a kick returner, and with 2 years of returning experience, he’s getting better every year.
Think Russell Hansbrough and Marcus Murphy 2.0 with Rountree and Badie. Badie reminds me a lot of Murphy from the 2013 and 2014 SEC East championship teams in the way they’re both electric, pass-catching and kick-returning backs who counter the primary option. It wouldn’t surprise me in the slightest if Badie can assume that role and dominate in doing so in 2020.
10. The 2021 recruiting class is Missouri’s highest-ranked in the past decade
Aside from Dorial Green-Beckham (No. 1 overall recruit in 2012) and Terry Beckner, Jr. (No. 13 overall recruit in 2015), Missouri hasn’t done too hot with recruiting. And especially after Gary Pinkel retired in 2015.
Drinkwitz came in and started recruiting the minute he was hired and he’s sure as heck come through so far. Fans get pumped whenever they see him tweet out this gif, as they’ve been coming at an impressive rate. The tweets aren’t for singing some 2-star, either; they’re quite frequently for big-time gets.
— Eliah Drinkwitz (@CoachDrinkwitz) July 13, 2020
With the work Drinkwitz has already put in on the recruiting trail, it’s no surprise Missouri fans are amped for the new era of Tiger football with Drinkwitz at the helm. At the pace he’s going, it wouldn’t be much of a shock at all if his 2021 recruiting class ranked as Missouri’s highest in 10 years, when Pinkel’s 2010 class ranked 21st in the nation. The class is ranked No. 29, a sizeable jump from the 2020 class that ranked No. 51.