WHERE'S THE RUSH?
After losing defensive ends Shane Ray and Markus Golden to the NFL, the Tigers seemed ready to rebuild their line with two more potential high draft picks: junior tackle Harold Brantley and sophomore end Marcus Loud. But Loud was dismissed from the team in May for an unspecified violation of team policies; a month later Brantley suffered myriad injuries in a car crash that will sideline him for the season. (He's expected to return in 2016.) Suddenly, Missouri had two huge holes to fill in a D that had led the SEC with 44 sacks.
Still, Mizzou brings back six starters on defense, including a strong secondary and linebacking corps—though it remains to be seen how much of that perception is a result of aggressive D-line play a year ago—and there's not likely to be much adjustment under new coordinator Barry Odom, who was a member of the staff in Columbia from 2003 to '11.
Junior quarterback Maty Mauk guided Mizzou to a second straight SEC East title, but he had an uneven first year at the helm (2,648 yards, 25 TDs and 13 INTs) after winning three of four starts as a freshman. To protect Mauk, Mizzou will have four of its top O-linemen returning, including senior center Evan Boehm (6'3", 320 pounds), who's riding a streak of 40 consecutive starts.
Barring a breakdown, the Tigers should start the season 4--0; their biggest hurdle comes in Week 7, an Oct. 17 matchup with Georgia in Athens. They get a tough nonconference opponent in BYU on Nov. 14, but that's at not-so-neutral Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City. A week later they face a home test against Tennessee (who they've beaten in three straight) before the finale at No. 22 Arkansas.
Maty Mauk has grown used to having big targets. But with the departures of receivers Bud Sasser (6'2"), Jimmie Hunt (6-foot) and Darius White (6'3"), sophomore Nate Brown needs to balance Mizzou's run game as a downfield threat. At 6'3" and 205 pounds, the four-star recruit has the size, but he caught just five passes as a freshman.
OPPOSING COACH'S TAKE
Coach Gary Pinkel and his staff should be getting more credit for their tremendous job of player development.... Maty Mauk is a good quarterback, but he can be streaky. You can't let him find his rhythm or it'll be a long day. You've got to mix it up on him and make sure you get pressure. If you get him off-balance and thinking, especially with his inexperienced receivers, you've got a good chance.... Defensively, they'll gamble more under new coordinator Barry Odom, but he'll still turn those guys loose up front, which is what lets them play zone coverage. They'll need to continue that relentlessness because their ends are so young this year.... With the experience they've got at linebacker and on the back end, Odom should be able to roll the dice.
JAMIE SQUIRE/GETTY IMAGES (MAUK)
COURTESY OF MISSOURI ATHLETICS (BROWN)