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Count the Ifs: What needs to happen for Mizzou to have a good/great/elite season?

The schedule sets up nicely for a memorable season, but some specific improvements and performances can be the difference between a great season and a magical season.

NCAA Football: Missouri at Florida Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The Godfather, Bill C, started a practice way back in 2013 of counting “ifs”— a thought experiment meant to identify what type of performances and statistical output would be needed to bring the Tigers back to relevancy. Luckily for Bill, that 2013 season was indeed magical, and he essentially went 13 of 15 on his predictions/requirements. In an attempt to channel my inner ghost of Bill in the year-of-our-lord-2019, I’m going to get this tradition back on track. If my own foray into this is anywhere close to that successful, I’ll call it a win. So... here goes! Wish me luck, dear readers.

What is the difference between good, great, and magical? We’ll start at the bottom requirements and build up from there: unless improvement is noted, each tier will have to be 100% achieved to move on to the next tier. Here’s an example: We won’t win the SEC East if the defensive line makes the 2013 jump but Kelly Bryant is injured. Got it? Good. Here we go!

With these, Missouri will win 9 games:

NCAA Football: Clemson at Georgia Tech
Kelly Bryant, a Tiger of several different colors
Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

1. If Kelly Bryant stays healthy

It’s pretty simple: Taylor Powell is a competent backup, but a backup nonetheless. Connor Bazelak is a true freshman, Lindsey Scott, Jr. is transferring, and Shawn Robinson got a whammy on the NCAA Wheel of Destiny. Kelly Bryant is our guy and is the only one who can provide enough skill, athleticism, and leadership to the QB position that can lead the offense to consistent success.

2. If DeMarkus Acy stays healthy

Sure, you can just point to Acy’s game in the Liberty Bowl while holding your nose and yelling, “STINKY!” (those of you with kids should appreciate this sentiment), but Acy is our best corner and has been so for the past two years. If you look at his FULL career (ahem), you see a corner who is great at playing the ball and effective in run support when needed. He needs to get luckier in the holding-on-to-interceptions department (side note: can you teach that?), but a secondary needs a stud corner to help steady the rotation. Christian Holmes and Adam Sparks will be good, and apparently Jarvis Ware is the next best thing, but you need a steady contributor on at least one corner of the field to run an effective secondary defense, and Acy staying healthy will only be a positive.

3. The offensive line performance stays in the Top 25

The line returns three guys, which means they lose two multi-year starters. We’re lucky that the three best of those five return, but o-line play isn’t about skill or experience; it’s about cohesion and teamwork. The best o-lines Missouri has ever had weren’t all big-name recruits, but guys who were developed and had their skill maximized while at Mizzou. They were also mean and weird as hell. Witness:

Remember these guys? Swoon....

Yasir Durant, Trystan Colon-Castillo, and Tre’Vour Wallace-Simms have been excellent in their years starting, and I’m sure Larry Borom and Hyrin White will be just as good, but the rapport just isn’t there yet. Last year’s line was 16th in Adjusted Line Yards, 8th in Yards Gained on Standard Downs, and 6th in stopping runs from getting stuffed in the backfield. I’m not going to anticipate a brand-new line reaching those heights, but staying in the Top 25 will be necessary to flirt with double digit wins.

4. If the defense can achieve a Top 50 SP+ passing rank

I know (I KNOW) it’s been covered ad nauseum. The pass defense has been a weakness over the past 3 years between coaches and scheme, playing a lot of youth, and a nonexistent pass rush. Now we have a secondary that’s experienced and talented and have high expectations and.. well.. we need to improve from 70th to at least 50th.

5. If there’s... like... any pass rush at all

Last year, Missouri’s defensive line ranked 108th in adjusted sack rate. ONE. HUNDRED. AND. EIGHTH. 27 sacks over 12 games and only 15.5 of those sacks return. You can’t expect huge improvement from a unit over one single year but... 75th? Yeah, I’d set the bare minimum expectation at 75th for adjusted sack rate. A P5 team— in the SEC no less— should easily be able to expect that. Right? (RIGHT?)

6. Tucker McCann doesn’t collapse under extra leg-related activities

51-54 on extra points, 72% on field goals last year. That’s not great, but a) 6 of his missed field goals were from 40+ yards out, and b) 4 of those misses were blocked. If he doesn’t get any worse with the extra punting duties lumped on to him, then I’m ok with it (side note: please find someone to take over punting; we don’t want Tucker’s leg to actually fall off)

With these Missouri probably wins 10-11 games and challenges for the SEC East:

7. Kelly Bryant throws for 2,500+ and runs for 800+

We here at Rock M have really embraced the, “Kelly Bryant is the return of James Franklin” vibe (editor’s note: it’s true) and, in theory, it makes sense. They both are similarly built and have similar skill sets, but a) neither Franklin nor Bryant were as prolific as we think— neither threw for over 3,000 and neither has ever run for over 1,000 in a single year, and b) we don’t need the prolific type of quarterback to succeed. Chase Daniel did it in a pass-heavy spread, Blaine Gabbert did it in a more methodical yet still pass-heavy style. And Tanklin had the ground threat to complement a decent arm. With the schedule we have and the proven weapons the offense has stored, I think a 10-win season will look a lot more like the 2010 version than the ‘11 & ‘13 Franklin years. Yes, Gabbert threw for over 3,000, but only ran for 400+. Tweak that a bit for a more spread-run-RPO style to fit Bryant, and a 2,500/800 season would do just fine.

NCAA Football: Missouri at Tennessee
Larry Rountree
Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports

8. Larry Rountree III/Tyler Badie/Simi Bakare combine for 1,400 yards

That 2010 offense saw De’Vion Moore, Kendial Lawrence, and a baby Henry Josey put up 1,376 yards on the ground. If Latysim Roundikare (still workshopping their three-headed name- don’t judge) can pair that with whatever Bryant adds on his own, this will be a threatening ground game for any defense to handle.

NCAA Football: Georgia at Missouri
Albert Okwuegbunam
Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

9. Johnathon Johnson and Albert O pull a T.J. Moe/Michael Egnew impersonation

2010 Moe - 92 recs, 1,045 yards, 6 TDs

2010 Egnew - 90 recs, 762 yards, 5 TDs

Moe and Egnew were essentially the entire passing offense (no offense to Wes Kemp and Jerrell Jackson), and I fully believe that the Tiger receiving corps is much more talented than that, so the targets might not be there. But Johnson and O coming for 1,700 yards and 11 TDs? Yeah, if they’re doing that then we’re definitely threatening the East crown.

NCAA Football: Wyoming at Missouri
Chris Turner
Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

10. Chris Turner makes the Michael Sam leap

Michael Sam 2010-2012 - 63 tackles, 13.5 TFLs, 7 sacks

Chris Turner 2017-2018 - 27 tackles, 4.5 TFLs, 2 sacks

This is not apples to apples, as Sam has one more year compared to Turner in this sample, but you get the idea. I’ll be upfront in saying that I don’t think that Turner has it in him to make “the leap,” but this can be a catalyst to a special season when a role player finally bursts on to the scene as an impact player. So... go on. Do it. Go be the SEC Defensive Player of the Year, Chris. No pressure.

NCAA Football: Missouri at Florida
Khalil Oliver
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

11. If Khalil Oliver produces 5+ TFLs, 2+ INTs, 5+ PBUs, 1+ FF

Havoc, basically. The boundary safety gets to play faster than a linebacker and hit harder than a safety, and Oliver needs to produce in that role this year. If we commit to the 4-2-5, then we need the production that teams like TCU rely on from the respective ROVER/STAR/boundary guy. Mizzou’s defense overall has been sleepy in the havoc department recently, and ratcheting that up a la Pig Brown in ‘07 would definitely help push the defense into scary good territory.

With these Missouri is a SEC and Playoff Contender*

*appeal pending!

12. Kelly Bryant throws for 3,000+ and runs for 1,000+

It’s only been done 9 times (and Lamar Jackson did it twice), but safe to say, if Bryant pulls off this kind of line, the offense will be nigh unstoppable.

13. The defensive line turns into the 2013 defensive line

Just in case you forgot:

Markus Golden, Michael Sam, Kony Ealy, Shane Ray: 184 tackles, 55 TFLs, 30 sacks

That’s just from FOUR defensive ends. They weren’t even on the field at the same time!

The current defensive line has shown no ability to hit that or the experience to start producing that now. However, that’s essentially the gold standard to hit to this lofty goal.

14. Rountree III/Badie become the new Josey/Murphy

1,767 yards on the ground between Josey and Murph, while adding 144 yards through the air. Again, this is the gold standard for success.

15. Astral assistance

USC in 2004. LSU in 2007. Auburn in 2010. Ohio State in 2014. All of these teams won it all, but needed teams around them to screw things up. The ultimate goal of any college team isn’t necessarily winning the national championship. Instead, the goal is to consistently field the best team you can and hope for a miracle. This is true for the bluest of blue bloods as you can see above, AND is true for Missouri as well. And yes, you might think this doesn’t apply to Alabama or Clemson, but Alabama was lucky to be playing for the National championship twice, in 2011 and 2016, so no one is immune to the random bounces of an oblong ball. Recruit, develop, deploy, and hope.

So what do you think? Am I way off? How many of these are feasible? I can’t wait to bookmark this and view at the end of the season to see how smart/dumb I was. Until then.... LET’S GO TIGERS.