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The best opposing players the Missouri Tigers will face in 2018

They’re all from Alabama. Kidding. Kind of.

NCAA Football: South Carolina at Missouri
Only one more year of Deebo Samuel, Tigers fans. Rejoice.
Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

We all know which Missouri players opposing teams will be paying attention to on film as game week with the Tigers draws near.

But what about the players and coaches in the MATC? To which players on the schedule will they be devoting most of their time and attention?

I went through Missouri’s 12 definite opponents for 2018 and picked out the top player the Tigers will have to face at each position group: quarterback, running back, receiver, interior and edge offensive and defensive lineman, linebacker, cornerback and safety.

Spoiler alert: All of them are from Alabama. OK, only four are from Alabama. I tried to spread the wealth.

QB: Tua Tagovailoa, Soph., 6-1/218, at Alabama (Oct. 13)

NCAA Football: CFP National Championship Game-Alabama vs Georgia
Tua Tagovailoa
Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

2017 stats: 49-of-77, 636 yards, 11 TD, 2 INT; 133 yards, 2 TD rushing

Missouri had the good fortune to miss Wyoming’s Josh Allen by one year. Unfortunately for the Tigers, they get to run smack dab into the guy who shredded Georgia in the National Championship Game. Tagovailoa came off the bench for a struggling Jalen Hurts and delivered throws like thisand this … to bring the trophy back to Tuscaloosa. Missouri didn’t have to deal with too many true dual-threat quarterbacks last year – especially ones whose offenses also boasted a punishing run-game complement – so Tagovailoa could be a bit of a problem, without proper preparation.

Honorable Mention: Jake Fromm, Georgia

RB: Damien Harris, Sr., 5-11/213, at Alabama (Oct. 13)

NCAA Football: Tennessee at Alabama
Damien Harris
John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

2017 stats: 135 carries, 1000 yards, 11 TD; 12 catches, 91 yards

As I was just saying. Think of all the outstanding running backs that have come through this program. Now consider that, if Harris runs for 1,398 yards this year – not an entirely unreachable figure, to be sure, given he’s a two-time 1,000-yard rusher – he’ll be the program record-holder in career rushing yards.

And that’s not the real problem. The real problem is, with as much talent as Alabama has all over its offense, Harris may not even be the one who ends up scorching Missouri’s defense. It could be Najee Harris. Or former Tigers target Josh Jacobs.

Honorable Mention: Benny Snell, Kentucky

WR/TE: Deebo Samuel, Sr., 6-0/210, at South Carolina (Oct. 6)

NCAA Football: South Carolina at North Carolina State
Deebo Samuel (1)
Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports

2017 stats: 15 catches, 250 yards, 3 TD; 30 yards, 1 rush TD; 2 KO returns, 194 yards, 2 TD

Career vs. MU (2 games, 2 starts): 14 catches, 170 yards; 32 yards, 2 rush TD; 97-yard KO return TD

Samuel played only three games last season before a broken leg cost him the rest. That came a little too late for Missouri, who arguably had the entire first half of its season torpedoed by two Samuel touchdowns (one kick return, one rushing) in quick succession.

Samuel’s the sort of receiver who can burn a defense in a variety of different ways and could be one of the best athletes the Tigers face all season. And the real bad news is that he’s not the only potentially game-breaking receiver on the Gamecocks’ roster…

Honorable Mention: Bryan Edwards, South Carolina
Second Honorable Mention, for his name only: TE Joey Magnifico, Memphis
Joey. Magnifico.

C/G: Hjalte Froholdt, Sr., 6-5/315, vs. Arkansas (Nov. 24)

NCAA Football: Florida A&M at Arkansas
Hjalte Froholdt (51)
Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports

2017 stats: 12 games, 12 starts at left guard

Career vs. MU: 2 games, 2 starts

The converted defensive tackle is going into his third year starting at guard for the Razorbacks. The native of Denmark helped Arkansas put up 446 yards against Missouri last year and largely kept Terry Beckner and A.J. Logan in check (one solo, three assists, one sack combined). Beckner gets another shot this year and, with Chad Morris installed as Arkansas’ head coach, the offense will probably be a strength.

Honorable Mention: Ross Pierschbacher, Alabama

T: Jonah Williams, Jr., 6-5/301, at Alabama (Oct. 13)

NCAA Football: Chick-fil-A Kickoff-Alabama vs Florida State
Jonah Williams (73)
Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

2017 stats: 14 games, 14 starts

He’s been starting since Day 1 on the top college football program in the nation. As a freshman, he held down the right edge of the line, before switching to the blind side last year. He was a Freshman All-America selection in 2016, then a second- or third-team All-America selection (depending on who you’re asking) last year.

I mean, what more is there to say about Tide players at this point? They’re the best in the league at, like, every position. If Missouri still hasn’t figured out their equation on the edge by the middle of October, Tagovailoa could have all day to throw.

Honorable Mention: Martez Ivey, Florida

DE: Carl Granderson, Sr., 6-5/261, vs. Wyoming (Sept. 8)

NCAA Football: Wyoming at Iowa
Carl Granderson
Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

2017 stats: 77 tackles, 16 TFL, 9.5 sacks, 2 INT

Granderson tore his ACL in the middle of his sophomore season – Oct. 2016 – and still came back to be one of the most productive mid-major pass rushers in the FBS. While all three were losses, Granderson showed up biggest against the Cowboys’ marquee opponents: Iowa, Oregon and Boise State. He had nine tackles and a sack against Iowa, three tackles for loss against Oregon and three sacks against Boise State. So he likes the big stage.

Honorable Mention: CeCe Jefferson, Florida

DT: Raekwon Davis, Jr., 6-7/308, at Alabama (Oct. 13)

NCAA Football: CFP National Championship Game-Alabama vs Georgia
Raekwon Davis
Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

2017 stats: 69 tackles, 10 TFL, 8.5 sacks, INT

I have a general rule in life: Dudes named “Raekwon” are probably pretty legit. This particular Raekwon is no exception. You look at the numbers he put up on (again) a stacked Alabama defense, and that’s plenty impressive enough. Then you look a little deeper and watch him running in the open field like a tight end after picking off Fromm in the National Championship Game, and you think, “This guy is a problem.”

He played end earlier in his Alabama career, but the Tide moved him inside this spring. Good luck with that, Trystan, Kevin and Tre’Vour.

Honorable Mention: McTelvin Agim, Arkansas

LB: Josh Allen, Sr., 6-5/252, vs. Kentucky (Oct. 27)

NCAA Football: Tennessee at Kentucky
Josh Allen (41)
Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports

2017 stats: 65 tackles, 9.5 TFL, 7 sacks, INT

Career vs. MU (3 games, 2 starts): 8 tackles, 2 TFL, 2 sacks, 2 FF

Yes, another Josh Allen. And, in his 2017 stats, I’m not counting an especially costly batted ball for Missouri in the two teams’ matchup last year. Aside from that bit of…er…gamesmanship, Allen put together an All-SEC caliber season as a hybrid outside linebacker/edge rusher for the Wildcats. He also has managed to record a sack and forced fumble in each of the past two outings against the Tigers.

He has a bit of a Bud Dupree profile, if we’re talking Kentucky edge rushers of recent vintage. And Missouri can attest that he’s pretty savage in end-of-game situations.

Honorable Mention: Anfernee Jennings, Alabama

CB: Deandre Baker, Sr., 5-11/180, vs. Georgia (Sept. 22)

NCAA Football: SEC Championship-Georgia vs Auburn
Deandre Baker (18)
Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

2017 stats: 44 tackles, TFL, 3 INT, 9 PBU

Career vs. MU (3 games, 1 start): 3 tackles, PBU

Despite losing to the Bulldogs each of the past two seasons, Drew Lock has actually had pretty modest success hitting Georgia’s secondary up top. One assumes he’ll try that again with Emanuel Hall this year, seeing as how Hall scorched the Bulldogs for 141 yards and two scores on four catches last year. But Baker was on the other side of the field. Holding J’Mon Moore to 8 yards on one catch.

So…yeah…Baker was one of the most dependable cover corners in the league last year, and there’s no reason to think that won’t continue. If Hall struggles getting off Baker’s jams at the line, it could take away a large part of the Missouri offense’s lethality.

Honorable Mention: T.J. Carter, Memphis

S: Chauncey Gardner-Johnson, Jr., 6-0/207, at Florida (Nov. 3)

NCAA Football: Louisiana State at Florida
Chauncey Gardner-Johnson
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

2017 stats: 58 tackles, 6 TFL, sack, 2 INT, 7 PBU

Career vs. MU (2 games, 1 start): 8 tackles, 2 PBU

Much like Tre’Vour Wallace-Simms, Trystan Colon-Castillo and Aarion Maxey-Penton before him, Gardner-Johnson enters a new season with a little more attached to his last name. The erstwhile Chauncey Gardner made his name (pun most definitely intended) last year after stepping in for the injured Marcell Harris before last season and never stepping out. He recorded interceptions and 40-plus yard returns in back-to-back weeks against South Carolina and UAB toward the end of the season, and was especially tough in the box during close losses to LSU and South Carolina.

Lock’s kryptonite in his career thus far has been temporary safety blindness: throwing the ball into an area and not seeing the coverage coming down over top. Gardner-Johnson is just the sort of player to punish him for those bad impulses.

Honorable Mention: Andrew Wingard, Wyoming