SEC: Connor McGovern
Previewing the 2014 season for the Missouri Tigers:
2013 record: 12-2 (7-1 SEC), beat Oklahoma State 41-31 in the AT&T Cotton Bowl
Final grade for 2013 season: In their second season in the SEC, the Tigers were one of the league's biggest surprises.
Key losses: QB James Franklin, WR Dorial Green-Beckham (dismissed), WR L'Damian Washington, WR Marcus Lucas, RB Henry Josey, OT Justin Britt, G Max Copeland, DE Michael Sam, DE Kony Ealy, LB Donovan Bonner, CB E.J. Gaines
Projected 2014 starters: QB Mauk, RB Hansbrough, WR Sasser, WR Hunt, WR Darius White, TE Sean Culkin, LT Morse, LG Anthony Gatti, C Boehm, RG Mitch L. Hall, RT McGovern, DE Markus Golden, DT Hoch, DT Vincent, DE Shane Ray, LB Donavin Newsom, LB Brothers, LB Michael Scherer, CB Aarion Penton, CB John Gibson, S Webb, S Ian Simon
Instant impact newcomers: CB Kenya Dennis (juco), WR DeSean Blair, WR Lawrence Lee
Breakout player: With the caveat that they aren't yet star players, it would be understandable to look at Mauk and Golden, two very talented first-time starters. Mauk is something of a dark horse Heisman Trophy contender, while Golden wreaked havoc with 6.5 sacks last season despite playing just 40 percent of MU's snaps. But the true breakout Tiger is White, the Texas Longhorns transfer who was once the No. 3-rated wide receiver prospect in the Class of 2010. White's numbers in his first season for Mizzou weren't too impressive (seven catches, 76 yards and a TD), but there wasn't much opportunity behind the established starters. That situation changes drastically in 2014, as the Tigers need White to explode out of the gate and be the weapon everyone expected he would be in college.
Most important game: The Tigers lost just one regular-season game, and it took double overtime for South Carolina to score the win at Faurot Field. This season, Missouri will look to return the favor in Columbia, South Carolina, and the stakes could be just as high for two of the better teams in the SEC East. After four nonconference games to start the season, Mizzou kicks off its league schedule with a chance to make a profound statement that 2013 was no fluke.
Biggest question mark: There's reason for concern in the secondary, where the Tigers must replace two departed starters at cornerback. But there's no escaping the glaring holes at wide receiver after MU lost its top three pass-catchers from 2013. Washington and Lucas were seniors. The Tigers were prepared to replace those two. But kicking Green-Beckham off the team -- although necessary -- significantly altered this season's forecast. DGB was the kind of star who commanded the attention of every defensive game plan. Missouri's top returning receivers, Sasser and Hunt, have thus far only contributed in limited roles. Can they step in and fill the void?
Upset special: Missouri will play three teams that are currently ranked in the coaches' poll -- South Carolina, Georgia and Texas A&M. The Gamecocks could be the class of the East Division. The Aggies are expected to improve by leaps and bounds by mid-November. Both of those contests are in enemy territory, which means the Tigers' best chance of scoring an upset could be against Georgia in Columbia, Missouri. Regardless of whether MU can pull off a win against the Bulldogs, there are bound to be a lot of points on the board. Both teams have a lot of firepower on offense and questions in the secondary.
They said it: "[Mauk] is a very natural leader. I knew that when he was in high school. He was one of those guys that he loves to play football, loves to compete. I think he's a dual-threat guy. He can run. He's got very good speed. Puts a lot of pressure on the defense utilizing both of those things. ... He's got a great work ethic. He's a winner. Players know it. He's a remarkable competitor. They know it. They respect the way he leads because he leads in a very, very positive way. We're very fortunate to have a young player like him. That's why he did so well last year when we threw him in there as a freshman." -- Gary Pinkel at SEC media days
ESPN Stats & Information: 6.97 wins
Bovada over-under: 7.5 wins
Our take: Stats and odds are certainly helpful tools when it comes to making predictions, but so is basic football knowledge. Missouri's strength is unquestionably on both lines, which is where games are won. The Tigers have a big, strong offensive line with plenty of experience (a combined 72 starts). Give Mauk time to throw, and he'll have a good chance to be productive even with a developing receiving corps. On the defensive line, Missouri had the league's top pass rush in 2013 and shouldn't miss a beat this fall. And then there's the schedule. It's very manageable. Missouri expects to survive its nonconference slate before facing eight consecutive SEC foes. The Tigers start that run with South Carolina, Georgia and Florida -- the perceived top threats in the SEC East. By the end of October, the division race could be a muddy mess but it's likely Missouri will be in the thick of it with a chance to go back to Atlanta for a second shot at the SEC title.
1. No questions at QB: Maty Mauk made quick work of his competition and left no doubt that he was both the Tigers' starting quarterback and their most vocal leader. The redshirt sophomore brings more flair to Mizzou's offense than predecessor James Franklin, as Mauk will take more risks with his arm and legs.
2. There's depth at WR: Even without dismissed star Dorial Green-Beckham, Missouri has talent at receiver. Bud Sasser and Jimmie Hunt say they're ready to take over now that the Tigers have lost their top three wideouts. The seniors, who have 73 career receptions combined, must become more than role players. Levi Copelin and Darius White will battle for the other starting spot.
3. Strong up front: The defensive line was healthy, strong and effective in 2013, and Missouri is expecting little drop-off this fall. Pass-rushing defensive ends Kony Ealy and Michael Sam are gone, but Markus Golden and Shane Ray put up good numbers as reserves. Starting tackles Matt Hoch and Lucas Vincent return and bring stability.
Three questions for the fall:
1. CB play: Who replaces E.J. Gaines and Randy Ponder at cornerback? An inexperienced secondary is an overall concern, but the presence of sophomore CB Aarion Penton, who had a standout freshman season, gives the Tigers a lot of confidence. Sophomore John Gibson beat out several contenders for the other starting cornerback spot in spring practice.
2. Reshuffling on OL: Will Mizzou have another stalwart offensive line? The Tigers lost two starters from one of the SEC's best units, forcing some reshuffling. Evan Boehm is the anchor in his second year at center. LT Mitch Morse, RT Connor McGovern, LG Anthony Gatti and RG Mitch Hall bring lots of size and experience.
3. Banged-up LBs: Will the linebackers hold up? Longtime starters Andrew Wilson and Donovan Bonner are gone, returning junior Kentrell Brothers had surgery on a torn labrum in March, and sophomore Donavin Newsom had the same surgery just before the spring game. There's a lot of pressure on sophomore Michael Scherer and senior Darvin Ruise.
One way-too-early prediction:
Missouri had a breakthrough season in 2013, going 12-2 and finishing with the No. 5 ranking in the country. This fall, the Tigers will prove they were no fluke and repeat as SEC East champs thanks to a handful of impact players, some great coaching and a very manageable schedule.
There's nothing earth-shattering about it, but not seeing guys such as James Franklin or L'Damian Washington on it will take some getting used to.
Before today, there was some speculation that Mitch Morse would get a chance to move from right tackle to left tackle. This first depth chart confirmed that, as the 305-pound redshirt senior is listed as the starter at left tackle. It isn't shocking at all. He's a versatile lineman who will bring experience to the most important position on the offensive line. Whether he stays there is yet to be seen, but it seems to be a smart move by coach Gary Pinkel and his staff.
With Morse at left tackle, junior Connor McGovern is listed as the starter at right tackle. McGovern was Mizzou's starting right guard in 2013 and enters 2014 with 14 career starts, the third-most on the line.
Another move for the Tigers came at linebacker, where junior Kentrell Brothers is listed as the starting middle linebacker after starting at Will linebacker last season. Brothers gets the first crack at replacing the very reliable Andrew Wilson, who has run out of eligibility. With Brothers heading up the spot inside to start the spring, sophomore Michael Scherer is moving from the middle to Sam linebacker. Last season, Scherer was listed as Wilson's backup.
Depth charts are always subject to change, and I wouldn't be surprised by some movement along the offensive line and even in the secondary as spring progresses.
Schedule: Missouri opens practice Tuesday at 4:30 p.m. ET and concludes the spring with its Black & Gold Spring Game on April 14 at 2 p.m. ET. The Tigers will hold scrimmages on March 17 at 10 a.m. ET and April 7 at 10 a.m. ET.
What's new: Well, Missouri will train this spring for its first season in the SEC. The Tigers left the Big 12 last fall and will officially join their new conference at July 1. The Big 12 logo is no longer at Missouri's football facility and there shouldn't be any shortage of SEC gear floating around the Tigers' practice field this spring. There will no doubt be some changes to how the Tigers operate in practice and in the weight room as they get ready for their new conference foes.On the mend: The Tigers enter the spring with a handful of names on the injured list. The biggest name, of course, is running back Henry Josey, who is still recovering from that devastating knee injury he suffered last season. Josey is supposed to undergo another surgery this spring, so he won't be available to practice and no one is sure if he'll be back this fall, either. Defensive end Brad Madison and defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson are both rehabbing from shoulder surgery and are expected to miss most of spring practice. Defensive tackle Marvin Foster is out for the spring after tearing his ACL during offseason conditioning. The offensive line is also banged up, as Anthony Gatti is recovering from ACL surgery, while Mark Hill is coming off of a procedure to repair a blood clot. Lineman Connor McGovern is also recovering from surgery.
Question marks: Missouri's offensive and defensive lines both lost three starters from 2011. That's six starting linemen gone on a team making the move to a true line-of-scrimmage league. The offensive line will be banged up this spring, but a positive is that four returning linemen have starting experience. There's a chance that Missouri will have just one first-year starter up front this fall (left guard Mitch Morse). Still, replacing three quality starters on a solid line will be tough. Defensively, Missouri is very thin at defensive tackle. Richardson is recovering from surgery, so the Tigers will throw out four tackles with six combined starts -- all coming from senior Jimmy Burge, who saw his production dip in 2011. Madison is also recovering from surgery at defensive end, but that position is in better shape, as Brayden Burnett, Kony Ealy and Michael Sam have played in 63 combined games.
Key battle: The Tigers said goodbye to three starting pass catchers from 2011, meaning this area of the team should be intense to watch this spring. Most notably, tight end Michael Egnew is gone. T.J. Moe returns as the Tigers' leading receiver, while the coaches are hoping for big things from Marcus Lucas, but after that there are a lot of questions. There are bodies to throw out there, but there isn't a ton of past production to go with those bodies. Outside of Moe and Lucas, Missouri's returning receiving threats have combined for 51 catches for 712 yards and five touchdowns in their careers. L'Damian Washington should continue to be used as a deep threat with Lucas, while Eric Waters should replace Egnew at tight end. Keep an eye on upperclassmen Jaleel Clark, Gahn McGaffie, Kerwin Stricker and Rolandis Woodland, who could challenge for time this spring as well. All of these players should be working extra hard before top recruit Dorial Green-Beckham arrives this summer.
Don't forget about: Missouri might be thin up front defensively, but the linebacker spot is loaded. Starters Andrew Wilson, who led the Tigers with 98 tackles in 2011, and Zaviar Gooden, who was third in tackles last year, are both back. The Tigers also return Will Ebner, who was granted a fifth year. Those three have combined for 484 career tackles. Redshirt junior Donovan Bonner should be Missouri's top reserve with his ability to play all three linebacker positions. Redshirt sophomore Darvin Ruise played mostly special teams, but should get more reps at linebacker this spring.
Breaking out: Lucas didn't haul in a ton of catches last season, but he showed that he can be that big-play wide receiver Missouri is searching for. He caught 23 passes for 414 yards and five touchdowns. That's an average of 18 yards per catch. He should receive more reps this spring and should improve on his 2011 numbers. He will likely play on the outside for the Tigers and will likely be Missouri's top deep threat this spring.
All eyes on: As Missouri prepares to make the transition to face SEC defenses week in and week out, quarterback James Franklin will receive even more attention. He had a true breakout season in 2011, passing for 2,865 yards and 21 touchdowns, while adding 981 rushing yards and 15 more scores. But he and his coaches will have to make some adjustments to the offense in order to combat the SEC speed they'll see this fall. Franklin enters the year as one of the top quarterbacks in the SEC, but in order to build off of his 2011 season, he'll have to improve on some parts of his game, including accuracy and his downfield passing. There's even more pressure on Franklin with Josey out and with questions still surrounding the receiving corps. Franklin has all the talent to succeed in the SEC, but you have to believe that tweaks need to be made to Missouri's offense to help him along the way.