Athlon's Pre-Season Top 25 - #25 Missouri

Last season, Missouri quarterback Brad Smith joined former Clemson quarterback Woodrow Dantzler as the only two players to pass for 2,000 yards and run for 1,000 yards in the same season. And Smith was just a redshirt freshman. Former starting quarterback Darius Outlaw seems to thrive as a wide receiver — he caught 46 balls last season, his first in that role — and should compensate nicely for the graduation of Justin Gage, the most prolific receiver in school history.

Tailback Zack Abron returns behind an offensive line well-stocked with stalwart veterans and anchored by All-Big 12 tackle Rob Droege. Atiyyah Ellison will be called upon to steady a defensive line that suffered major graduation hits. Linebacker James Kinney, the Tigers' leading tackler last fall, and cornerback Michael Harden are still the leaders in the back seven.

Making points: The 360 points Missouri scored in 2002 were the third-most in school history.

Ball protection: The 2002 Tigers committed just 12 turnovers, the fewest in the nation.

Quick study: After just one season, Tiger quarterback Brad Smith already ranks eighth on the school's career total offense chart with 3,362 yards.

2002 Record: 5-7 (2-6 Big 12)

Bowl Game: None

Returning starters: 9 offense, 6 defense, both kickers

2003 Schedule
A. 30 #Illinois
S. 6 at Ball State
S. 13 Eastern Illinois
S. 20 Middle Tennessee
S. 27 at Kansas
O. 11 Nebraska
O. 18 at Oklahoma
O. 25 Texas Tech
N. 1 Iowa State
N. 8 at Colorado
N. 15 Texas A&M
N. 22 at Kansas State
#St. Louis, MO


Schedule Analysis: The Tigers have a shot at starting 5-0 heading into its Oct. 11th game with Nebraska, a team it has not beaten in 24 tries. With two weeks to prepare and Columbia in a frenzy, this should be the year the Big Red finally goes down. The second half of the schedule gets brutal with trips to Oklahoma, Colorado and Kansas State, but if Missouri takes care of business at home (Texas Tech, Iowa State, Texas A&M), it could be looking at nine wins.

Final Word: Quarterback Brad Smith could be this year's Seneca Wallace, and Missouri could be this year's Iowa State. Of course, the Cyclones fell apart after a fast start (and win over Nebraska), and the Missouri schedule is bottom-heavy. Still, despite being in the toughest conference in the nation, the Tigers have a shot to make some noise this year in the Big 12 and on the national stage.




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