Ranking Missouri’s schedule: feisty non-conference foes
We’ll rank every opponent on Missouri’s schedule from No. 12 to No. 1 before the start of the regular season. Here are the previous installments: The weak links.
For the most part, NFL coaches don’t have too much trouble convincing their roster that the opponent is talented. That’s mostly because all NFL players have talent.
College coaches, though, face more of a challenge. Some FBS vs. FCS matchups are like the varsity against the JV. Plus, when teenage boys are involved, attention span and focus sometimes can be an issue.
That’s what makes these two teams solid fits for the 2014 schedule, at least as far as Missouri fans are concerned. The Tigers will be comfortable favorites in both games, but both teams are good enough to get the attention of the players.
It’s tempting to rank the Rockets as a tougher game than the Big Ten’s Hoosiers.
After a disappointing 7-5 season, including three MAC losses, most publications expect the Rockets to compete for a West Division title with Northern Illinois. USA Today even ranked them as the nation’s 53rd-best team.
Greg Mancz, on plenty of NFL radars as an All-MAC guard, leads four returning starters in contention for the nation’s best non-power conference offensive line.
The team must replace a bevy of skill position players, including quarterback Terrance Owens, who accounted for more than 9,000 yards of total offense and 72 touchdowns during his college career.
But along with a touted offensive line, Toledo runs a spread offense that produces points year after year including 33.0 per game in 2013.
It’s the defense that’s had its struggles, but the team returns six all-conference players on that side of the ball. The one thing Toledo’s defense did pretty well last season is pressure the quarterback, and the team’s pass rush should be decent to good again this year. The secondary remains the biggest concern.
Gary Pinkel, of course, coached Toledo from 1991-2000. Overall, Toldeo has no business beating this Missouri team, even in Ohio. If the Tigers play a sloppy game, the Rockets could put a scare into them deep into the second half.
Toledo’s offense is capable of getting to the end zone a few times and competing. But Missouri can expect a win barring a catastrophe.
The Hoosiers are legitimately chasing a bowl game in 2014, which is a rare occurrence.
The offense was good enough to scare Big Ten opponents last season, but one of the worst defenses in major college football allowed 35 or more points in 10 of 12 games. While the offense will remain the team’s strength, expect the gap between the units to shrink in both directions.
There are some basic parallels between Toledo and Indiana; namely, the Hooisers should be able to score, and will rely on perhaps its best offensive line in years.
Where Indiana may separate itself in terms of challenging Missouri, though, is at quarterback. The mobile Tre Roberson transferred away from IU, but that just means Nate Sudfeld will get more time steering the offense.
Sudfeld has completed more than 60 percent of his passes with a nearly 3-to-1 touchdown to interception ratio. There’s also the part where he’s 6-foot-5, 230 pounds and entering his junior season with help from dynamite running back Tevin Coleman.
The defense must transition to a new scheme and a new coordinator, which normally would be cause for concern, but the worst that could happen is that the unit remains a catastrophe. The 3-4 also seems to fit Indiana’s personnel, as the team has several young, large bodies to deploy on the line of scrimmage.
Indiana represents the final non-conference game of the season and precedes games at South Carolina and against Georgia, which represent the crux of Missouri’s season, at least on paper.
Because of Sudfeld and the danger in looking ahead to the SEC schedule, I’ll give the Hoosiers a slight edge over Toledo. A loss wouldn’t affect the SEC East standings, but if Missouri wants to accomplish its goals for 2014, this is a game the team should win.