Welcome to Week 1.
By Saturday — kickoff of Missouri’s opener against UT-Martin — 249 days will have passed since we last saw Missouri football in a meaningful game. You might remember it. They were being punted to death by Michael D***son in a 33-16 loss to the Longhorns in the Texas Bowl.
“Loss by punter” is the football equivalent of Chinese Water Torture.
Since the calendar flipped to 2018, it’s been a remarkably quiet nine months for Missouri football. The biggest news was actually good news; Drew Lock announced his return in January, foregoing the draft to be QB1 for Missouri one last time.
A remarkably quiet offseason. Even on the projected depth chart, there aren’t many sweeping changes. Missouri returns 15 of its starting 22 from the Texas Bowl; each one of those returning 15 are projected to start against UT-Martin. Even in some spots where Missouri is replacing a starter, the position is not without depth and experience. At running back, for instance, Larry Rountree III and Damarea Crockett will likely split the bulk of reps; that duo has already combined for 2,146 yards and 18 touchdowns on 359 carries in around 2 ½ seasons of combined experienced.
If you’re looking for comparisons, let me take you back to the 2012 offseason. Like this one, it was remarkably quiet. Like this one, Missouri returned a big chunk of its starters for the next season (14). And, once again, even at the positions that were replacing starters, those were being done by players with experience. Henry Josey (returning from injury), Marcus Murphy and Russell Hansbrough replaced Kendial Lawrence (whose career was pretty similar to the guy Missouri replaces this year, Ish Witter). And, like 2018, there were questions about Missouri’s defensive line because it had lost its best player, Sheldon Richardson. The 2013 defensive line returned eight sacks, total — 53-percent of its 2012 total. This 2018 defensive line returns 14.5 (56-percent).
Missouri has an elite quarterback returning in 2018, but James Franklin showed the potential to be a very good college quarterback prior to the 2013 season, too.
There are similarities between the state of the SEC East in 2013 and 2018, too. Georgia finished 2012 five yards away from a national championship appearance; Georgia finished the 2017 season one overtime possession away from a national title. The Bulldogs return a star quarterback (Aaron Murray then, Jake Fromm now). South Carolina returns after a strong previous season with one of the better quarterbacks in the SEC (Connor Shaw then, Jake Bentley now).
If Missouri stumbles early, what should Barry Odom burn to inspire his players this time?
This poll is closed
The Rock M
The still-being-constructed South Endzone Project
Florida still hasn’t found a quarterback. Tennessee has a new coach. Vanderbilt, 2018, is not Vanderbilt, 2013. Kentucky is the biggest outlier, as the Wildcats return talent and have some momentum under Mark Stoops.
These comparisons are fun, but they’re ultimately meaningless. So what matters for Missouri’s 2018 season?
It’s simple, in my opinion. While Ryan Walters’ defense and Derek Dooley’s offense will certainly be important, what matters — what really to watch — is how Barry Odom’s player development improves this year.
Because that was the difference for Missouri in 2013. The unknowns entering that season ended up being the strongest parts of that team, like the defensive line. That kick-started a two-year stretch in which Missouri had, arguably, the most dominant defensive line in school history.
This is Year 3 under Barry Odom. This is very much his team now; the positions with the biggest unknowns will be filled by players Barry Odom and his hand-picked staff recruited. Outside of Terry Beckner and Tre Williams (committed to Gary Pinkel’s staff), the defensive line is all Odom. So, too, are many of the defensive backs expected to be in the rotation this year, like Joshuah Bledsoe and Adam Sparks.
Want to draw similarities between 2013 and 2018 at the onset? The biggest one is the one we can’t see from the outside. Odom’s program must make the leap in the unknown players this year. It won’t be Drew Lock or Emanuel Hall or Terry Beckner that will decide whether this is a bowl year or something more special.
It’s going to the development of the players that haven’t made a big impact yet. Like 2013, it’s going to be about developing the unknown into the reliable. Find a positive answer to that, and the repercussions won’t just be felt this year.
It will be a sign of more good things to come under Odom.