In the 100 days leading up to the kickoff of the college football season on Saturday, Aug. 25, HERO Sports is ranking the top 100 teams in the FBS. Each day, starting May 17 and ending Aug. 24, a new team is revealed in the HERO Sports Top 100.
No. 34 Missouri
Barry Odom might've saved his job with a 6-1 finish last season, and while offensive coordinator Josh Heupel left for UCF and they lost a few key pieces on both sides of the ball, they return one of the nation's best quarterbacks in Drew Lock, a darn good offensive line and a couple studs on defense.
Can they win eight games for the first time in four years?
2017 Record: 7-6 (4-4, SEC)
Nine total wins in 2014 and 2015 were followed by a 1-5 start in 2017, which included four blowout losses (outscored 117-30 in losses to South Carolina, Purdue and Auburn).
Things were bad in Columbia.
Then the offense exploded and the defense tightened vs. subpar competition. And while the six FBS wins came against teams that finished with a combined record of 19-40 (none won more than four games), it was still a strong and badly needed turnaround that spurred optimism for a program not long removed from SEC title contention.
Head Coach: Barry Odom (3rd Year, 11-14)
Barry Odom landed his dream job when Gary Pinkel's retirement led to the Mizzou grad's promotion from defensive coordinator two years ago. He enters year three "more competitive than [he's] ever been" but is also more realistic, more willing to delegate, and learning from past mistakes as his program looks to build on last year's rebound season.
"There’s a better staff harmony now; we’re working really well together," Odom said over the summer. "And I think that’s probably from the head chair giving more of a clear vision of ‘this is how we’re going to do it.’ ”
RB Ish Witter, WR J'Mon Moore, DE Marcell Frazier, S Anthony Sherrils, S Kaleb Prewett
After having 13 draft picks from 2014-16, J'Mon Moore was Mizzou's only selection in April. The Packers' fourth-round pick of Moore extended the program's draft streak to 14 consecutive years. Moore was dominant alongside Drew Lock the last two years, posting consecutive 1,000-yard seasons while averaging more than 16 yards per reception.
Elsewhere, Ish Witter had a career season running the ball (1,049 yards, 5.6 yards per carry), Marcell Frazier tied Terry Beckner Jr. for the team lead in sacks (seven), and Anthony Sherrils and Kaleb Prewett patrolled the back end of a defense that improved dramatically in the second half of the season.
Returning Offensive Players
QB Drew Lock, RB Larry Rountree III, RB Damarea Crockett, WR Jonathon Johnson, WR Emanuel Hall, TE Albert Okwuegbunam, OT Paul Adams, OT Yasir Durant
Out: Josh Heupel's catch-your-breath spread offense that was amazingly simple given how explosive and quick it was.
In: Derek Dooley's pro-style system with more complex pre-snap reads and terminology, more formations and two- and three-tight end sets.
“It’s more complicated of an offense, but I’d say in a way it’s easier,” quarterback Drew Lock said in spring practice. “It was more guessing games last year on what I thought receivers were going to run. This year, I have it set in stone on what they’re going to do every single play. It just makes me a lot more comfortable back there because I know exactly what’s going on.”
Lock passed on the 2018 draft because, in part, he wasn't confident in his ability to grasp an NFL offense. He's back and could break his own SEC passing touchdown record (44) from last year. Emanuel Hall — the best No. 84 in college football — is also back and while his yards-per-catch average (24.8) is likely to decline, expect fewer mental mistakes from the senior.
“He’s got to sort of expand his route inventory,” Dooley said of Hall. "He certainly has big-time traits to beat people down the field, but once you do that, they can take that away. You have to be able to hurt them in other ways.”
Larry Rountree is back after a strong freshman season and, along with Damarea Crockett, who battled injuries last year, lead a rushing attack that can average five yards per carry for a second straight year. They'll be aided by an experienced offensive line that returns five starters, including All-American candidate Paul Adams and rising junior Yasir Durant.
“We still spread. It’s just more run [different] schemes probably,” Dooley said of their new blocking schemes. “What does that mean? Then you have different techniques you’re using. Different bocks. Different combination blocks. You just learn how to do more. It’s like a receiver who runs four routes versus eight routes. The adjustment is you do more stuff and practice more stuff. It gives you a little bigger toolbox to answer. There’s a downside to that. Right? If you do too much you’re not good at anything. There's plusses and minuses to both. If you don’t do a lot you tend to get really good at what you do.”
Returning Defensive Players
DT Terry Beckner Jr., LB Cale Garrett, LB Terez Hall, LB Brandon Lee, CB DeMarkus Acy, CB Adams Sparks
Missouri's defense was solid in Barry Odom's first two seasons as defensive coordinator (2014, 2015) but has since slipped, failing to create turnovers (1.5 per game in 2016, 1.2 in 2017), allowing more than 12 yards per receptions and playing poorly on third downs (47 percent in 2016, 43 percent in 2017). They did, however, improve dramatically vs. the run last year (5.5 yards per carry in 2016 to 4.0 in 2017) and bumped their sack rate to nearly seven percent.
“Mizzou has already been known for that defense, especially that defensive front in general,” senior defensive tackle Terry Beckner Jr. said at SEC Media Days. “That’s one thing I’ve been trying to get back . . . Everybody on the front, we’ve been trying to get that back. It’s well deserved. You talk about Missouri. First thing you’re going to hear is D-Line Zou. We’ve got to keep that.”
Beckner, healthy after missing significant time in both 2016 and 2017, had seven tackles for loss and 4.5 sacks over a four-game midseason stretch (including two tackles for loss and one sack vs. Florida, below).
The linebackers are a hell of a lot of fun to watch at the line of scrimmage. Terez Hall is one of the best pass-rushing linebackers in the country, and Brandon Lee — who's played both strong- and weak-side linebacker — is one of the more versatile players in the SEC.
Not one defensive back had more than two interceptions last year. DeMarkus Acy and Adam Sparks have the talent to change that. Both played well later in the season.
WR Harry Ballard III, WR Dominic Gicinto, DE Jordan Elliott, S Zion Sales
With 16 returning starters and several other key players back, Mizzou's roster is laced with upperclassman and experienced sophomores. That leaves few openings for transfers and freshmen.
Jordan Elliott is the big one. The Texas transfer impressed in the spring ball and should start immediately.
"He can pretty much do whatever he wants,” Lock said of the 6-foot-4, 325-pounder. “He’s a very physical guy that I wish we had on the field last year, but I’m very grateful we have him on the field this year playing with us, not against us.”
Two early-enrollee receivers, Harry Ballard III and Dominic Gicinto, made some nice plays in spring practice and will get opportunities behind Hall and Johnson. And redshirt freshman safety Zion Sales will have chances at a position that was smacked by departures.
Missouri plays Wyoming in Week 2, their first-ever matchup with the Cowboys, and visits Purdue in Week 3 for the second half of a home-and-home series. And they begin the first half of a home-and-home with Memphis on Oct. 20 (the second half is a trip to Memphis in 2023).
|Saturday, Sept. 1
|vs. UT Martin
|Saturday, Sept. 8
|Saturday, Sept. 15
|Saturday, Sept. 22
|Saturday, Oct. 6
|at South Carolina
|Saturday, Oct. 13
|Saturday, Oct. 20
|Saturday, Oct. 27
|Saturday, Nov. 3
|Saturday, Nov. 10
|Saturday, Nov. 17
|Saturday, Nov. 24