The loss of so many high-profile players explains the dulled expectations for Mizzou outside of the program — the SEC preseason media poll picked the defending division champs fourth in the East — but internally, the Tigers believe they’re built to contend. [...]
"I tell people we’re the eighth-winningest BCS program in the country in the last seven years and they look at me like (they’re) surprised," Pinkel said. "Maybe we don’t communicate those things well enough. We’ve had a lot of success and we’re very proud of our program."
Let's look at Mauk's four starts last year from another angle. In those starts, all against SEC teams, Mauk completed 50 percent of his passes for 227.5 yards a game, a 142.49 QB rating, 7.98 yards a pass, a touchdown every 11.4 attempts and an interception every 57 attempts.
Florida, South Carolina, Tennessee and Kentucky -- when they were playing SEC teams not quarterbacked by Mauk last year -- gave up a 60.9-percent completion rate, 195 yards a game, a 132.72 QB rating, 7.32 yards a pass, a touchdown every 21.3 attempts and an interception every 39.3 attempts.
So in every metric besides completion percentage -- which we'll get to in a second -- Mauk was between 7.4 and 46.5 percent better than the rest of the SEC against those teams.
And that's just passing.
Even if Pinkel isn't serious about the whole "running backs catching passes" thing, Murphy could still be the standout of the group. He scored a touchdown once every 10.3 offensive touches last year and has maintained a clip of once every 14 touches over his Missouri career.
"We lost some guys, but we’re fortunate we played so many guys last year," Pinkel said. "It’s an opportunity for a couple of freshmen to get in there. It’s an opportunity to put in some other personnel. We’ve got some very good running backs that can catch. There are a lot of things we can do to get those guys in the offense, be a little bit more creative."
With Levi Copelin’s suspension for the 2014 season, walk-on Gavin Otte could get a long look at one of the Tigers’ slot spots. Redshirt freshman J’Mon Moore could help with depth on the outside. And Missouri has four freshmen — DeSean Blair, Nate Brown, Lawrence Lee and Thomas Richard — who will get their shots in fall camp.
The somewhat-rebuilt unit broke in Mitch Hall and Anthony Gatti at guard this spring, and the results were promising. Maty Mauk remained largely unscathed, and there were some solid rushing performances behind that group. Of course, going from practice to a live-game setting can expose a lot of flaws, but Missouri's top five looks to be in good shape to play at a similar level as the 2013 offensive line.
But 2012 happened, and it's still fresh on everyone's mind. The injuries across the offensive line derailed that season, and while Missouri remained -- for the most part -- healthy in 2013, there's the real spectre of possible injuries. What's Missouri's contingency plan if one of those experienced cogs goes down?
Missouri's 2013 explosion at end was due to depth, and while the Tigers lose two stars, they replace them with two soon-to-be stars in Markus Golden and Shane Ray. But, depth is still a question mark as the heir apparents at back-up are untested redshirt freshmen Marcus Loud and Charles Harris. Could they be just as effective as Golden and Ray were in 2013? Sure. But, keep in mind -- Golden and Ray were a redshirt junior and a redshirt sophomore. That time in the program surely helped.
Can Scherer man the middle? We know Mizzou believes in Scherer as a pitchman for the program. He's been out and about this offseason as a Mizzou ambassador at events and media gatherings. The redshirt sophomore is an honor student. He's exceptionally articulate. He talks and acts like a future team captain. But can he knife through SEC blockers, drag down SEC runners and patrol the middle of SEC passing and running lanes? Wilson was never accused of being an elite athlete but more often than not was in the right place at the right time and swarmed after ball-carriers. Can Scherer be that consistent stopper in the middle of the Mizzou defense?
How good is Webb? He’s one of the most experienced safeties in the SEC, but does that make him one of the best? To some degree, he’s made all those starts because Mizzou hasn’t exactly been loaded with safeties to challenge him for playing time. But is he a difference maker? Does he make the kind of momentum-shifting plays that you see from the league’s elite safeties? (Alabama’s Landon Collins made 69 tackles last year and equaled Webb’s 10 disruptive plays — with Bama’s defense on the field for 309 fewer snaps than Mizzou’s defense. Ole Miss’ Cody Prewitt logged 71 tackles and 15 disruptive plays — with the Rebels playing 163 fewer snaps than Missouri.) If Webb can make the leap from occasional playmaker to consistent threat, he can establish himself as one of the better safeties of the Pinkel years. But he’s got some work to do before he moves into William Moore and Pig Brown’s neighborhood.