(Part 14 of a 14-part SEC football preview series)
Missouri is striving to reverse a downward trend. Since going 12-2 in 2013 and 11-3 in 2014, the Tigers have followed up with 5-7 and 4-8 campaigns.
Despite finishing 2-6 in Southeastern Conference play, offense wasn't a problem. In Barry Odom's first year as head coach, the Tigers led the league with 500.5 total yards per game, ranked second in passing (294.4 ypg). third in scoring at a 31.4 clip and eighth in rushing (205.1 ypg).
With 10 returning starters, the offense is expected to be even more prolific.
Junior Drew Lock returns behind center with 20 consecutive starts under his belt. Last season, Lock threw 23 touchdowns with 10 interceptions, and his 3,399 passing yards were tops in the conference for the regular season.
Sophomore Demarea Crockett and senior Ish Witter form a strong backfield combination. Crockett averaged 6.9 yards per carry while running for 10 touchdowns and a school freshman record 1,062 yards. Witter added 750 yards and six scores.
Missouri returns its top four wide receivers in senior I'mon Moore (62 receptions, 1,012 yards, 8 TDs), sophomores Dimetrious Mason (47-587-3) and Johnathon Johnson (24-435-2, 18.1 yards per catch) and junior Emanuel Hall (19-307-2).
Senior tight end Jason Reese (8-97-2) is the lone new face in the starting lineup.
To say the Tigers' offensive line exceeded expectations last year would be an understatement. Entering the campaign as one of the nation's most inexperienced offensive lines, the unit allowed only 35 tackles for negative yardage — tops in the nation — and an SEC-best 14 sacks.
All five starters return intact with senior Tyler Howell at left tackle, junior Kevin Pendleton at left guard, senior Alec Abeln at center, sophomore Tre'Vour Simms at right guard and junior Paul Adams at right tackle.
For the Tigers to return to postseason play, defensive improvement is an imperative. Missouri ranked dead last in the SEC and 118th nationally in total defense (479.7 ypg), and near the bottom of the league in scoring (31.5 ppg), rushing (232.8 ypg) and passing (246.8 ypg).
On a positive note, the unit showed improvement after switching to a more aggressive scheme later in the season.
Senior free safety Thomas Wilson (58 tackles) is the top returning tackler. Senior strong safety Anthony Sherrils (53 tackles, 1 interception) and junior free safety (49 tackles, 1 interception) bring additional experience to the secondary. Sophomore DeMarkus Acy and senior Logan Cheadle are both first-year starters at the corners where the Tigers must fill the vacancy left by first-team All-SEC performer Aarion Penton (43 tackles, 5 INTs, 12 pass breakups).
Senior Eric Beisel, who logged 44 tackles and six stops for negative yardage in five starts, is the top holdover among the linebackers. Senior Joey Burkett (40 tackles, 2 INTs) and junior Brandon Lee (37 tackles, 4 TFL, 2 sacks) also saw significant action in 2016. Junior linebacker Kaleb Prewett, who sat out last season after transferring from Kansas State, is also expected to be a factor. In six starts at K-State in 2015, the Blue Springs (Mo.) accounted for 49 tackles, sixth on the team.
Senior end Marcell Frazier (33 tackles, 8.5 TFL, 7 sacks) thrived down the stretch, picking up 6.5 sacks over the final three games. Senior nose guard A.J. Logan (15 tackles, 2 TFL), junior end Nate Howard and junior tackle Terry Beckner Jr. round out the starting front going into preseason camp. Beckner (24 tackles, 2 TFL) played seven games before suffering a season-ending knee injury for the second straight year. Junior college transfer Rashad Brandon is also being counted on at tackle.
Kicker Tucker McCann is looking to improve on his accuracy after making just 4-of-10 field goals and 39-of-43 extra points as a freshman. McCann displayed a strong leg, hammering 42 of 64 kickoffs for touchbacks and driving home a 55-yard field goal.
Junior Corey Fatony punted 66 times for a 42.9-yard average.
2017 MISSOURI SCHEDULE
(All Times CST)
DATE OPPONENT TIME
Sept. 2 Missouri State TBA
Sept. 9 South Carolina* 6 p.m.
Sept. 16 Purdue TBA
Sept. 23 Auburn* TBA
Oct. 7 at Kentucky* TBA
Oct. 14 at Georgia* TBA
Oct. 21 Idaho TBA
Oct. 28 at Connecticut TBA
Nov. 4 Florida* TBA
Nov. 11 Tennessee* TBA
Nov. 18 at Vanderbilt* TBA
Nov. 24 (Fri.) at Arkansas* 1:30 p.m.