Head Coach: Gary Pinkel
2014 record: 11-3 overall, 7-1 SEC East
2014 Postseason results: Beat Minnesota 33-17 in the Citrus Bowl
2015 returning starters: 6 offense, 6 defense
Odds to win 2016 College Football Championship game: 305/2
Odds to win 2015 SEC Championship Game: 18/1
Odds to Win 2015 SEC East Division: +490
Regular season wins: under 8 -145 / over 8 +115
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The Missouri Tigers have won two straight SEC East titles. Yes, they got crushed by far superior Auburn and Alabama teams in the SEC Championship game. That isn’t really the point though. Many thought it would take Missouri several seasons to contend in the SEC after moving from the Big 12. Still they have two division titles in three seasons over established SEC powers Georgia, Florida, South Carolina and Tennessee.
The Tigers won the SEC East last year with a 7-1 record. The only blemish was an ugly 34-0 loss to Georgia. Missouri would end up beating Minnesota 33-17 in the Citrus Bowl to complete an 11-3 season.
Only 12 starters are back for long time coach Gary Pinkel, so they could take a step back in 2015.
The 11 win season was even more impressive when you consider Missouri struggled to move the ball. Missouri averaged 367 yards per game including 189 passing and 178 rushing yards. The Tigers were #98 in total offense and #101 in passing out of 128 teams. Missouri averaged 28 points per game. Six starters are back for coordinator Josh Henson.
Quarterback Matty Mauk is back for his junior season. He completed 53.4% of his passes for 2,648 yards with 25 touchdowns and 13 interceptions, and he also rushed for 373 yards on 108 carries with 2 touchdowns. Sophomore Eddie Printz is the back-up but Mauk took every snap last season.
Senior running back Russell Hansbrough is back after he had 205 carries for 1,084 yards with 10 touchdowns, and also making 11 catches. The Tigers must replace Marcus Murphy who had 177 carries for 924 yards and 4 touchdowns, and also making 28 catches for 212 yards and a touchdown. Sophomore Ish Witter will get the back-up carries after rushing for 101 yards on 27 carries with a touchdown. Mauk will also get plenty of carries again.
Missouri loses their top four receivers from last year, including Murphy. Bud Sasser is now with the St. Louis Rams after making 77 catches for 1,003 yards and 12 touchdowns. Jimmie Hunt is now with the Green Bay Packers after making 40 catches for 698 yards and 7 touchdowns. Darius White had 30 catches for 272 yards and 4 touchdowns. Tight end Sean Culkin is back after making 20 catches for 174 yards and a touchdown. Besides Hansbrough, no other receiver had more than 5 catches last year. It is unclear who will be the go-to receiver. Nate Brown, Wesley Leftwich and J’Mon Moore are penciled in at the starters.
Four senior starters are back on the offensive line led by star center Evan Boehm and right guard Connor McGovern. The line struggled to start last year but was a strong unit by the end of the year.
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Missouri allowed 346 yards per game on defense, including 213 passing and 134 rushing yards. The Tigers allowed 21 points per game. Missouri was in the top 40 in all four categories nationally. Coordinator Dave Steckel left to become the head coach at FCS school Missouri State. Pinkel hired former Missouri assistant Barry Odom who had been the defensive coordinator at Memphis to replace Steckel. Six starters are back on defense in 2015.
Junior tackle Harold Brantley was supposed to be the only returning starter on the line. However, he was injured in a car wreck in June and is out for the season. Still, there is a talented group of young tackles including Josh Augusta and true freshman Terry Beckner, Jr. The ends are a little young as well with sophomores Marcus Loud and Charles Harris slated to start.
Linebackers Kentrell Brothers and Michael Scherer combined for 113 solo tackles and assisted on 123 more. Both return in 2015. Donavin Newsome is the only new starter but he will make an impact on the strong side.
Cornerbacks Kenya Dennis and Aarion Penton are back as is free safety Ian Simon. Expect the Tigers to be more aggressive in blitzes and going for interceptions.
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Senior kicker Andrew Baggett made 18 of 25 field goals last year. He could also serve as the punter in 2015 but will compete with freshman Corey Fatony for the job. Murphy will be difficult to replace as the return man as he took 2 kicks and a punt to the house. John Gibson will return kicks and Anthony Sherrils will return punts.
Missouri has a chance to get off to a strong start with a relatively soft September slate of games. The Tigers host SE Missouri State and Connecticut, and travel to Arkansas State and Kentucky. In October, Missouri hosts South Carolina and Florida, before traveling to Georgia and Vanderbilt. In November, the Tigers host Mississippi State and Tennessee, play BYU in Kansas City, and end the season at Arkansas.
Although, there are a lot of questions at receiver and on the defensive line, the schedule is very favorable for Missouri. The Tigers avoid Alabama, Auburn, LSU and Ole Miss. Trips to Georgia and Arkansas will be very difficult but I think the Tigers can win 9 games in 2015 if everything works out.
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