Photo courtesy of Missouri Athletics
By Nicholas DeLorenzo, Associate College Football Editor
PHILADELPHIA, Pa. (Sports Network) - 2011 SEASON IN REVIEW: The Missouri Tigers closed out their last season as a member of the Big 12 Conference in style, finishing 8-5 overall in head coach Gary Pinkel's 11th season.
The year didn't start off the way the Tigers had wanted, as they lost five of their first nine games. Although they started the season ranked in the Top-25, the Tigers' poor play during that stretch caused them to fall out rather quickly. They did not fare well against equal or greater competition, falling to Arizona State (37-30 in overtime), Oklahoma (38-28), Kansas State (24-17), Oklahoma State (45-24) and Baylor (42-39).
They were able to salvage the season however by ripping off four consecutive wins to close out the year, including an impressive 17-5 win over No. 20 Texas. The campaign ended with a trip to the Independence Bowl, where they defeated North Carolina in a 41-24 final.
OFFENSE: In the Big 12, Missouri was able to sling and run the ball all over the field, and its 472.4 yards per game were more than all 12 SEC schools last season. A change in that number (along with 32.2 ppg) is eminent however, as the squad starts its first season in the much more defensive-minded SEC.
Without question, the biggest piece to the Tigers' offensive puzzle is duel- threat quarterback James Franklin. In a stunning sophomore season, Franklin passed for 2,865 yards and 21 touchdowns (against 11 interceptions), and he ran for another 981 yards and 15 scores. His 36 total touchdowns were the third- most in a season in school history.
After experiencing some minor injury concerns in the offseason, Pinkel is confident that his signal-caller can return and put up even better numbers in 2012.
"We expect, without question, for him to be a hundred percent," Pinkel said. "The trainer told us that two weeks ago. It will be interesting to see in August as he's throwing more consistently over and over again, repetition-wise to see his accuracy, which I think really improved a whole lot last year as the season went on. Our last three quarterbacks are playing in the NFL right now. I think he's in line. He's that kind of a potential player."
The Mizzou rushing attack has proven to be just as effective, although Henry Josey's status is unknown at the moment after suffering a knee injury late last season (1,191 yards, 9 TDs), Kendial Lawrence will go from part-time back to the featured guy early on and hope to improve upon his 630 yards and 5 touchdowns in 2011.
Missouri doesn't have much talent at wide receiver, but it landed one of the top prizes in the recruiting class in wideout Dorial Green-Beckham. The 6- foot-6, 220-pound beast was unstoppable in high school, collecting 119 catches 2,223 yards, and 24 touchdowns as a senior. The five-star recruit is drawing a lot of comparisons to Calvin Johnson, both in terms of size and his game. He should be able to make an immediate impact, with 800 yards and 8 touchdowns being a conservative estimate for the uber-talented youngster.
DEFENSE: As much as the Tigers' offense needs to adjust to their new league's style of play, the defense has even more catching up to do. In the Big 12, a team can get away with allowing 382.3 yards per game and 23.5 points per game, but in the SEC, those types of numbers will land you towards the bottom of the league rankings.
The squad returns two of its top three tacklers in linebackers Andrew Wilson and Zavier Gooden. Wilson was named Second Team All-Big 12 a year ago after recording 98 tackles and 9.5 tackles for loss, while Gooden started all 13 games, compiling 80 tackles and 2 interceptions.
They also boast one the most effective defensive backs in E.J. Gaines, who was named First Team All-Big 12 as a sophomore after recording 69 tackles and 2 interceptions. Fellow junior Kip Edwards (55 tackles, 1 pick) joins him in the secondary.
Defensive end Brad Madison is the only returning starter along the defensive line. He was fourth on the team in tackles for loss (8.5) and second in sacks (4.5) a year ago.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Trey Barrow returns as the rare special teams player to act as both a team's primary punter and placekicker. As part of a kicking committee in 2011, Barrow connected on 7-of-9 field goal attempts. He also booted away 62 punts for a 44.8 yard average.
T.J. Moe should once again be an effective kick and punt returner for the Tigers after combining for 654 return yards a season ago.
OUTLOOK: With an electrifying quarterback, plenty of key pieces back from last year, and the addition of a super freshman, the Tigers are in line to have just as good if not a better team this season than they did last.
However, the wildcard of moving to the SEC remains an unknown. Even if they are better, will playing stronger competition wipe out any progress they may have made in the offseason? Pinkel believes his team is up for the challenge.
"We're excited about joining the league, he said. "There's been a transition that's taken place, will take place probably for some time to come, certainly different areas of it. We've been working hard since January in our preparation for the football season."
"I'd be disappointed if we were intimidated," he continued. "We played in a pretty good football league ourselves. We understand the great league we're coming into. It's all going to play out. We all know how it works. It's in the process. How is Missouri and Texas A&M going to do in the SEC? There's going to be an analysis every single week.
While matchups against Georgia, South Carolina, Florida and Alabama seem daunting, the Tigers will have winnable conference games against Vanderbilt, Kentucky, Tennessee and fellow newcomer Texas A&M (to go along with its soft non-league slate consisting of Southeastern Louisiana, Arizona State, UCF and Syracuse). Given the team's talent and schedule, Missouri seems more likely to find success in 2012 than Texas A&M in its new conference.