Ranking Missouri's schedule: The Replacements
We are ranking 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, Feisty non-conference foes, The Volunteer State and Early litmus test.
Missouri faces three ranked opponents in 2014 according to the preseason Associated Press Top 25. Georgia and South Carolina are ranked high enough that they can suffer multiple losses, drop, and still stay in the Top 25. And there’s a strong possibility the Bulldogs and Gamecocks will win eight or nine games even if they struggle.
But some rate the Tigers’ third Top 25 team as the sixth-best in the SEC West. If that’s the case, the Aggies won’t be in the Top 25 by the time Missouri travels to College Station on Nov. 15.
4. at Texas A&M
Much like Missouri, Texas A&M must replace its starting quarterback, its early-round NFL Draft pick of a left tackle and its top receiver.
In the Aggies’ case, that’s a Heisman Trophy winner and the face of the program in Johnny Manziel in addition to two other first-round picks.
The problem for Missouri is two-fold: a) The game is on the road late in the year, which gives coach Kevin Sumlin and the Texas A&M roster plenty of time to grow into what is a proven system, and b) the Aggies still have some tremendous athletes on offense.
Sports Illustrated’s Any Staples did an excellent job breaking down how the team may deploy Cam Clear (6-foot-6, 277 pounds) and Ricky Seals-Jones (6-foot-5, 235 pounds). Then there’s Malcome Kennedy, who caught 60 passes in 2013, and Speedy Noil, the freshman sensation from New Orleans and a trendy pick on instant-impact lists.
Though there are only three stars next to his name, in addition to a recent arrest, sophomore Kenny Hill gets the honor of replacing Manziel at quarterback with five-star freshman Kyle Allen behind him. It’s possible that Allen, not Hill, could assume control of the offense by mid-November, but Hill enters the season at the helm.
Though the Aggies won’t be able to replace the Manziel-to-Mike Evans combo, Sumlin will make sure Hill or Allen gets the ball to the playmakers one way or another. Luke Joeckel and Jake Matthews are gone, but Cedric Ogbuehi and Mike Matthews remain to anchor another imposing offensive line. Expect points from the Aggies.
That leads us to the Texas A&M defense.
The Aggies were particularly inept at stopping the run last season, and finished last in the SEC in rushing yards allowed.
Sure, one of the nation’s best recruiting classes helps, but five-star defensive end Myles Garrett is a true freshman. The team dismissed defensive tackle Isaiah Golden and linebacker Darian Claiborne this summer.
A&M returns three starters on the defensive line. Linebackers Jordan Mastrogiovanni and Shaan Washington got significant experience as freshmen. That group can’t get worse. Deshazor Everett is a strong cornerback. Linebacker A.J. Hilliard transferred from TCU, which also should help.
The Aggies need a playmaker or two to emerge on defense. There’s no Von Miller in this group. But someone who can disrupt the quarterback or lock down a No. 1 receiver. Perhaps that’s Everett. But even if the unit improves, which it should, at least marginally, this team is going to allow a lot of yards, especially rushing yards. A&M needs to force turnovers in bunches and play with a lead.
Perhaps Mississippi State or Ole Miss, and not Texas A&M, will be in the SEC West’s bottom two. Some team will join Arkansas in the basement. But either way, the fact that this game rates as the fourth-toughest of Missouri’s season is a positive. It’s possible that Missouri’s two cross-division opponents could be the two worst in what has been the toughest division in all of college football. A&M’s strength or weakness will either complicate Missouri’s schedule or turn the SEC East into a four-team round robin.
It’s too far away to project which team will be favored in two-and-a-half months. Prior to the season, Texas A&M probably would enter this matchup as a slight favorite. But assuming wins against Tennessee and Vanderbilt (not guaranteed, but likely), if Missouri can find a way to pound the ball on the ground, get a lead and knock off the Aggies on the road, the the Tigers’ season, and the SEC East race, will be condensed to three games.
Of course, those three games already will have happened. But that’s for another post.