This is Coach Pinkel's most talented team. There's more depth of talent than any of Coach Pinkel's previous teams, and once again, Coach Pinkel is fielding a team with great team speed. This is also a very experienced group, with 20 scholarship seniors, and 50 returning players with game experience. There is also a tremendous infusion of young talent on this team, with 10 red-shirt freshmen listed on Missouri's opening day two-deep depth chart. The Tigers return 17 starters from their 10-3 team of a year ago, including First-Team All-Big 12, and First-Team All-American TE Michael Egnew, and four Second-Team All-Big 12 selections, in WR T.J. Moe, OL Dan Hoch, and DEs, Brad Madison and Jacquies Smith.
Last year, Missouri defeated Miami (OH) by the score of 51-13.
This year, the Tigers come into the season opener after a very physical fall camp that left Missouri a little banged up. Before camp even started, the Tigers lost their projected kick returner, Marcus Murphy, to a season-ending injury. During two-a-days, starting left tackle Elvis Fisher went down, and was lost for the season. Heading into the season opener, Missouri has three more projected starters, center Travis Ruth, WR Jerrell Jackson, and CB Kip Edwards, on the sidelines, along with a couple of back-ups, in WR Gahn McGaffie, and TE Eric Waters. Coach Pinkel said earlier this week that he expected to have all but McGaffie back on the field for week two.
On multiple occasions, I've heard Coach Pinkel say that, "We'll always have great quarterbacks." Each of Missouri's last three starting QBs are currently in the NFL.
In steps the new starter, James Franklin. The talented sophomore is Coach Pinkel's first true dual-threat QB at Missouri, and he brings a team-first attitude to the position. Here's what Coach Pinkel had to say earlier this week about Franklin.
"I think he got a lot better from spring football until now," said Coach Pinkel. "I think his upside is tremendous. He's very talented............................ He's got a very quick release. He's got a good arm. His accuracy's improved as his footwork's improved............................ He's worked tremendously hard. He's very, very talented. And, he's a player who has the potential to be very, very good."
Franklin is smart, and extremely coach-able. He has already demonstrated toughness and mobility. He's shown very good pocket presence, as well as good field presence. He's demonstrated the ability to complete the deep ball, as well as having shown good touch on his shorter throws. He's exceptional at completing the 15-25 yard passes, over the linebackers, and in front of, or in between, the secondary defenders. He does a real nice job of leading receivers away from the defense, and allowing them to run after the catch. A lot of people are going to be surprised at how good he is.
At the TB position for Missouri, junior Kendial Lawrence has emerged as the clear number one. Coach Pinkel indicated this week that senior De'Vion Moore and sophomore Henry Josey will also carry the football, but it's Lawrence who will be the guy. He has really improved himself physically since last season, and he made a habit in fall camp of ripping off long runs. He comes into the Miami (OH) game a little banged up.
Despite the loss of Fisher, Missouri is in very good shape up front, as long as everyone else stays healthy. Once Ruth returns, Missouri will have six starter-quality guys.
With Jackson likely out, it appears that sophomore Marcus Lucas gets his first start. Lucas really came on during fall camp. Of course, Egnew and Moe will be heard from, as well.
Missouri is planning to play up-tempo, and the staff is prepared to play a number of receivers, which is what the Tigers have. This Saturday against Miami (OH), a pair of exciting red-shirt freshmen, Bud Sasser and Jimmie Hunt, are expected to make their Missouri debuts.
Defensively, Missouri takes to the field with their best defensive line of Coach Pinkel's tenure. From what I can tell, the Tigers are prepared to play a four-man rotation at DT, and a five-man rotation at DE. All are starter quality, and several are all-conference quality.
This will be the long-awaited debut for junior-college transfer, Sheldon Richardson. Coach Pinkel said that Richardson's doing very well, and is really happy to be here.
"He's such a good kid," said Coach Pinkel, speaking of Richardson. "He did all of the right things to get here. He's a player who has tremendous potential. I think he's blended in real well with our football team.............................. I think the road to get here was so tough for him, that he is so appreciative of being here, that he wants to get his degree, and he wants to be a great football player, and take advantage of the reason he came here."
"I might lose it," said Sheldon, talking about how he expects to feel when he runs out of the tunnel on Saturday morning. "It's going to be a great feeling! I know I'm here now. It's been a long time coming. It's no longer a dream. I'm not a recruit any more. It's going to be a great feeling to be playing for the Missouri Tigers!"
In addition, this may be Missouri's best line-backing corp. And, I'm not sure this isn't Missouri's best secondary, under Coach Pinkel.
Missouri's kicking game appears to be comparable with the recent high standards. And, I think the Tigers may be improved in the return game.
"That gets back to us then, trying to play our best game," explained Coach Pinkel, talking about his team's game day approach. "Our focus is on Mizzou, and trying to be at our best. Our players are excited about it. I think everybody in college football is excited to be playing the first game. Playing somebody else, instead of playing yourself in spring football and beating on yourself the last twenty-five practices. I think our players have a great deal of enthusiasm. We are excited about playing at The Zou. We're excited about our fans wearing gold, and continuing the great traditions we are trying to build in our stadium."
"I expect our players to play well," continued Coach Pinkel. "That's my job, as a coach, to get them to play well........................... Our big thing is to play our best football game............................ (And), I know that we'll compete hard."
It's an exciting season opener! Missouri returns much of its 10-3 team of a year ago intact. Despite losing two top-ten draft picks to the NFL, I think the Tigers are better at those two positions. In addition to Richardson, Sasser, and Hunt, this game marks the debut for a number of other young players who are likely headed for stardom at Missouri. Included among that number is a trio of red-shirt freshmen defenders, including DT Lucas Vincent, DE Kony Ealy, and safety Braylon Webb. This game also introduces as starters six sophomores whom Missouri fans are going to really appreciate, in Franklin, Lucas, CB E.J. Gaines, LT Justin Britt, safety Matt White, and SLB Andrew Wilson.