SEC PREVIEWS: Missouri joins the mix

As if winning five straight national titles wasn't enough to declare the Southeastern Conference's college football supremacy, the league managed to take it one step further last season when the BCS title game matchup between Alabama and LSU guaranteed a sixth straight national champion from the SEC before the championship game was even played.

So how does seven in a row sound? Well it will be hard to bet against the SEC continuing its dominance, especially with LSU returning 15 starters from last year's squad and BCS champ Alabama still loaded on the offensive side even with the loss of standout running back Trent Richardson.

Yet the big story in SEC Football 2012 is the addition of Missouri and Texas A&M to the conference, something that figures to make it even tougher to get through the league schedule unscathed. While neither Mizzou nor the Aggies are expected to contend for SEC divisional titles, they both bring solid programs to the league. Missouri was ranked No. 1 in the country five years ago before losing to Oklahoma in the 2007 Big 12 title game, and A&M's Kyle Field is one of the most difficult venues in the country for visiting teams, something Florida, Arkansas and LSU will have to contend with this fall.

The Scout.com publishers believe that LSU and Georgia will repeat as division champions this year with LSU picked to win the SEC Championship. Previews of all 14 SEC teams are about to be featured on GamecockAnthem.com, and today we look at Mississippi State.



SEC WEST

Missouri (PREDICTED FINISH: 4TH IN EAST)


Missouri Tiger coaches and players echo the same excitement and sentiments about heading to the SEC for the 2012 football. They just can't wait for that Sept. 8 league opener when the Georgia Bulldogs come to Columbia. The Tigers, coming off an 8-5 season, including an Independence Bowl victory over North Carolina, return a fair amount of depth and talent from last year, and will be bringing in a talented recruiting class that includes the nation's No. 1 recruit in wide receiver Dorial Green-Beckham.

However, they will miss talented running back Henry Josey for the 2012 season. Josey suffered a season-ending knee injury during the Texas game last year, and had to undergo several surgeries. There is hope that he may be able to return late in the season, but for now he is not expected to contribute this season. Here is a breakdown of the 2012 Missouri Tigers:

Quarterback
Junior signal-caller James Franklin returns after finishing 2011 strong by leading the team to four straight wins. Franklin, a true dual threat, threw for 2,865 yards and 21 TDs, completing 63 percent of his passes, while also finishing as the Tigers' second-leading rusher with 981 yards and 15 TDs. As Franklin goes, so goes the Missouri offense in 2012.

Running Back
The loss of Josey is a difficult one to overcome. Josey was among the national leaders at the time of his injury with an 8.1 yards per carry average. His 1,200 yards rushing and nine TDs will have to be replaced. The leading candidate will be senior Kendial Lawrence, who got considerable playing time after Josey went down, and finished with 566 yards and 5 TDs while averaging 4.8 yards per carry. Lawrence had a strong spring and looked faster and more physical than at any time since arriving at Mizzou. Other backs vying for playing time will include Marcus Murphy, Jared Culver and incoming freshman Morgan Steward.

Receiver
The Tigers return their top receiver in T.J. Moe, who led the team with 649 yards on 54 catches. Moe will also double as the team punt returner and may return some kickoffs. Junior Marcus Lucas came on strong as the year progressed, accounting for 414 yards on 34 catches in part-time play. L'Damien Washington averaged 18 yards per catch in 2011, and provides Mizzou with a deep threat. Incoming freshman Dorial Green-Beckham, who ended his high school career as the alltime national yards reception leader, is expected to contribute right away. The tight end position will be up for grabs between Eric Waters and Bud Sasser.

Offensive Line
Despite graduating some multi-year starters, the Tigers return some veteran players with experience to plug in at the positions vacated. Tackle Elvis Fisher is the senior member of the line after missing last year with an injury and being granted an extra year to play. He will anchor the important left side of the line. Junior Justin Britt, who played left tackle and guard in Fisher's absence, moves over to become the starter at right tackle. The interior part of the offensive line will be manned by Travis Ruth at left guard, Mitch Morse at center and Jack Meiners at right guard.

Defensive Line
The defensive front lost its starting tackles to graduation, but super-talented junior Sheldon Richardson (6-4, 295) who played a lot last year, returns to man the middle along with massive sophomore Lucas Vincent (6-2, 300). Richardson missed the spring rehabbing a shoulder injury, but Vincent had a strong spring and solidified his spot. Defensive end is a strength of the line with standout sack leader Brad Madison returning. Manning the other side will be redshirt sophomore Kony Ealy (6-5, 266), who has drawn comparisons to former Tiger and NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year Aldon Smith.

Linebacker
This should be the strength of the defense with all three starters returning and quality depth ready to play. Zavier Gooden (6-2, 235) has been clocked at sub-4.4 in the 40, and was the second- leading tackler on the team with 80 hits last season. The other outside linebacker, Andrew Wilson, was the leading tackler in 2011 with 98. Senior Will Ebner will man the middle for the Tigers.

Secondary
Missouri returns its top three cornerbacks from 2011 in E.J Gaines, Kip Edwards and Randy Ponder. Gaines is a star in the making, and all three are playmakers. The starting safeties figure to be Braylon Webb and Kenronte Walker, although the Tigers have some quality athletes returning who will fight it out for playing time.

Outlook
Expect the Tigers to seek a balanced offense in the run and pass under dual threat James Franklin. Finding a go-to running back or backfield by committee to replace Josey's numbers will be a key to finding that balance. Defensively, MU appears to have a strong starting unit, and some quality depth in the back seven. Keeping the starters healthy along the defensive line will be important to their success.

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