As Mizzou’s training camp gets underway, we take a look at the top 5 things you need to know about the Tigers’ upcoming season.
1) Maty Mauk is one of the best quarterbacks in the SEC. Granted, it’s his first full season under center. However, Mauk showed last season that he is more than capable of handling the job, filling in for James Franklin and emerging with an impressive run of victories. Yes, the sophomore needs to improve his accuracy and be better in the pocket. But you can’t question Mauk’s toughness or intelligence. The former Ohio high school star has the ability to move an offense and he certainly can make plays under pressure. The Tigers’ offense has a history of productive QB’s. If Mauk can get into a rhythm this season, look out. Perhaps only Auburn’s Nick Marshall and Ole Miss senior Bo Wallace are better.
2) The WR position will be wide open. Gary Pinkel’s staff typically redshirts freshmen, but this year’s group could end up seeing some playing time out of necessity. The dismissal of Dorial Green-Beckham — and the season-long suspension of Levi Copelin — leaves the Tigers a bit depleted at receiver, but not nearly enough to panic. That’s because Mizzou recruits for depth and has a number of players that could emerge as targets. The returning experience of Bud Sasser, who moves to the outside, will help. Jimmie Hunt and Darius White have some playmaking ability, as well. All three are seniors. But watch out for a couple of 6-3 youngsters in J’Mon Moore (RSFr.) and Nate Brown (Fr.). Also, could TB/KR Marcus Murphy catch some passes out of the backfield – or in the slot? The answer is yes…and yes.
3) Mizzou shouldn’t miss a beat at DE. Michael Sam and Kony Ealy are gone to the NFL. But the tradition of pass-rushing defensive ends continues at Mizzou with Markus Golden and Shane Ray. Golden, from St. Louis, might be Missouri’s best player, period. He registered 6.5 sacks as a backup last season, using his strength to bull rush the opposition. Golden led all Tigers’ ends with 55 tackles, eight of them against South Carolina. Ray is more of an edge rusher, making the Golden-Ray combo a nightmare for quarterbacks.
4) The rest of the defense will need to step up. The Tigers’ D was chewed up in the SEC Championship by Auburn’s running attack and Missouri can’t let that happen again. With Golden and Ray spending a lot of time in opponents’ backfields, it will be up to the interior D-linemen and linebackers to help against the run. Mizzou does have some hard-hitting safeties that can make stops. But against the passing game, how much will the Tigers be impacted by the graduation of all-SEC corner E.J. Gaines?
5) Once again, the Tigers will have to earn the SEC’s respect. And the nation’s respect, apparently. Missouri, ranked fifth in the nation at the end of last season, is currently unranked (barely) heading into 2014. The Tigers’ non-conference schedule isn’t exactly a gauntlet (South Dakota St., at Toledo, Central Florida, Indiana), so there’s a decent chance of being 4-0 entering conference play on Sept. 27 at South Carolina. Mizzou, the defending SEC East champions, will have to prove itself all over again, although the Tigers seem plenty excited for the challenge. The key game? Oct. 11 at home against Georgia. Missouri – and its ever-growing fan base – will have two weeks to prepare for the Bulldogs. It’s a chance to either make some noise in the SEC…or drop to 0-2 in a hurry.