Three predictions for Missouri
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
There's no doubt after spending a lot of time around Missouri players last week that they feel disrespected by preseason prognosticators who aren't picking them to contend in the North Division title race this season.
Sure, the Tigers lose players like Chase Daniel, Chase Coffman, Jeremy Maclin, William Moore, Ziggy Hood and Jeff Wolfert from their back-to-back title-game teams. All arguably are among the greatest players at their positions in school history.
Recruiting has picked up in recent years for the Tigers. And that infusion will have them be competitive in nearly every game this season.
But being able to contend for a third-straight appearance in the Big 12 championship game might be a different story -- particularly with the balance that should be present in the rest of the division this season.
Here's a look at three predictions for the Tigers this year.
1. There's no way that Missouri can escape the nonconference part of their schedule without at least one loss.
Illinois has lost all four games in the Missouri series since it returned to St. Louis in 2002. The Illini have been embarrassed by allowing an average of 46 points per game in the last two seasons. They will want revenge and with Juice Williams, they probably will get it this season.
And veteran Nevada coach Chris Ault still remembers how the Tigers ran up the score in a 69-17 loss at Columbia last season. The Wolf Pack will have their chance at revenge this season, buying quarterback Colin Kaepernick some exposure before a national television audience.
I'm expecting Missouri to lose at least one of those nonconference games. And it wouldn't be a shock to me if they lost both of them.
2. Blaine Gabbert won't be Chase Daniel, but he won't fare badly in his first season as starter.
There was some "Chicken Little" thinking among Missouri fans when Gabbert struggled during the spring game. Don't worry about him. By the middle of the season, I'm expecting him to be an accomplished Big 12 starter.
And even with the troubles I'm expecting for his team early, the Big 12 will be a different story. And if Gabbert can orchestrate a big victory over Nebraska on Oct. 8 in the Tigers' Big 12 opener, they might hang around the Big 12 North Division title race a lot longer than most are expecting.
3. Missouri will have five receivers who will produce at least 50 receptions this season.
The Tigers won't have Maclin, Coffman or Tommy Saunders this year. Don't look for as much concentration at the top of the receiving list, but expect a lot more balance. Danario Alexander, Wes Kemp, Andrew Jones, Jared Perry and even running back Derrick Washington are ready to step up as receivers this season. New coordinator David Yost's offensive strategy will feature a lot of producers.