Surprised? Mizzou enters spring ball without fanfare
It’s only March and some of us already written off Mizzou in 2015.
Recent history suggests this is a bad idea.
The two-time defending Eastern Division champs, on paper at least, should take a step back after losing sack masters Shane Ray and Markus Golden along with nearly every playmaker at the wide receiver position.
Tennessee returns a league-best 18 starters and Georgia appears stronger with one of the league’s Heisman frontrunners in the backfield.
But this is Gary Pinkel we’re talking about here, arguably the SEC’s most underrated coach and a masterful developer of talent. His internal expectations are extremely high at the league’s winningest program over the last two seasons.
And the lack of outside buzz surrounding his team? Meaningless.
The Tigers open spring practice Monday with eccentric Maty Mauk back under center, a veteran offensive line and a new defensive coordinator set on disproving the myth that Mizzou’s pass rush is its biggest question heading into fall.
Shouldn’t the return of the East’s top tackler Kentrell Brothers, All-American candidate Harold Brantley at nose guard and 1,000-yard rusher Russell Hansbrough be enough to at least challenge for another division title? Not to mention the genetically-enhanced carrot that’s dangling at the top of the Tigers’ den — a rematch with Auburn or Alabama in the SEC Championship Game.
Rivals from the Yellowhammer State have embarrassed the East champs back to back years inside the Georgia Dome, strengthening the division’s perceived demise nationally. Mizzou would like nothing more than to humiliate either and strengthen its case for a College Football Playoff berth.
Maybe a little.
Special seasons hinge on quarterback play and Mauk, whether you like him or not, is one of the SEC’s most skilled returners at the position. He may not do anything great, but he does everything well, notably escaping pressure and keeping plays alive with his feet.
His career numbers — 3,719 yards, 36 TD — leads all East quarterbacks and rank second behind Heisman candidate Dak Prescott’s totals at Mississippi State for the SEC’s best at the position.
Improved ball security on an offense that may be limited in the big-play department is Mauk’s focus during spring practice along with developing relationships with Mizzou’s new crop of pass-catchers.
If the Tigers can improve a unit that finished 13th in the SEC last season in yards and 12th in points per contest, Pinkel’s squad should be considered a contender.
Keep an eye on Mizzou this spring and don’t tell us we didn’t tell you so.