Catch up on previous 2023 opponent previews!
Thirteen weeks ago I began my previews of every regular season opponent on Missouri’s 2023 schedule, and as of last week, I’m done! My hope is that you learned something interesting about the dirty dozen the Tigers will be squaring off against this year and get a better idea of what Mizzou will be facing heading into Eli Drinkwitz’s fourth year at the helm.
With the team-specific previews done, let’s take a step back and look at the collection of teams as a 12-unit sample size and rank them based on various factors. Say...Bill Connelly’s factors that go into preseason rankings, what do you think?
Let’s start will Bill C’s factors that go into rating college football teams headed into the season.
Missouri’s 2023 Opponents Ranked by 5-Year Recruiting Rankings
In the 13-team sample size of the 2023 opponents (plus Missouri), you can break down the 5-year recruiting rankings into four tiers: Tier 1 has Georgia as far and away the best recruiting team, followed by a gigantic gap, followed by Tier 2 of LSU/Florida/Tennessee. Tier 3 holds South Carolina/Arkansas/Kentucky/Missouri (although the Tigers are ten points worse than Kentucky’s but 17 points better than Vanderbilt, so, I dunno) with Tier 4 containing Vandy/K-State/Memphis/Middle Tennessee. I put South Dakota’s recruiting rankings in there but...uh...yeah it’s FCS and they ain’t great so I’m not really putting them in a tier.
Of this group, Kentucky, Missouri, Vanderbilt, Memphis, and Middle Tennessee are the teams whose recruiting efforts dipped from 2022 to 2023. On the flip side, Tennessee, South Carolina, and Kansas State saw recruiting improvements of at least an 8-spot improvement, with K-State experiencing a 31-spot leap from ‘22 to ‘23.
It’s also worth noting that Missouri plays three teams with Blue Chip Ratios over 50%. As a reminder, the blue-chip ratio takes a look at all the recruits a team has brought in and divides the number of players on the roster ranked a 4- or 5-star as a prospect by the total players that are currently on the team (minus walk-ons). Missouri’s current BCR is 27% while they will go up against Florida (64%), LSU (71%), and Georgia (77%) this year. All other teams the Tigers will play have BCRs under 50%.
Missouri’s Opponents Ranked by Returning Production
At this point last year Tennessee was 17th in the country with a 77% returning production rate - 80% of their offense, 68% of their defense - and then subsequently went on to improve by 11 points in SP+ and go 11-2.
Similarly, South Carolina last year had an 82% total returning production number and, even though it only meant one more win from the previous year, improved by nearly 10 points in SP+.
If you want to buy into Missouri massively improving in quality - if not wins - this is your reason. Other than kansas, no other team returns as much of last year’s production as the Tigers do and they do so in a division where four of their Eastern brethren rank 50th or worse.
Now, returning terrible players doesn’t mean much, and losing a ton of elite production when you replace them with equally elite athletes doesn’t mean much, either. Still, if there is a noticeable improvement for Eli Drinkwitz’s guys in the “W” column this will be one of the reasons.
Also...yeah, the LSU hype is real and warranted. Yikes.
Missouri’s Opponents Ranked by 5-Year SP+ Ratings
College football teams are more likely to resemble their quality over a 5-year stretch than what it looked like the previous year so this is a good reference to heat check some hot commodities. Memphis ranking above Missouri was a surprise but, overall, this feels about right.
And before you start getting into your feelings about Missouri’s “actual quality” or its place in the pecking order here, let’s do a quick breakdown:
- Missouri’s 5-Year Record vs. Teams Above Them in 5-Year SP+ Average: 6-16
- Missouri’s 5-Year Record vs. Teams Below Them in 5-Year SP+ Average: 12-5
Missouri Opponents Ranked by Preseason SP+ Ratings
All of the above numbers get rolled into one metric, the SP+ ranking system, to figure out the projected quality of the team heading into a given season. Missouri heads into the 2023 season ranked 34th in the nation and the 9th-best team of this 13-team sample, projected to be about 11 points better than the average 2023 college football team. Georgia is, of course, projected to be nearly 30-points better than an average college football team, with LSU (25.2), Tennessee (23.9), Florida (14.8), Kentucky (14.5), and Kansas State (14.3) all expected to have a two-touchdown bump over the average ‘23 squad.
Florida, Kentucky, Kansas State, Arkansas, and South Carolina are all packed into a 7-point range - along with Missouri - which makes sense as those are widely perceived to be the Tigers’ toss-up games this season. Of those games, only Kentucky and Arkansas are on the road.
2023 Projected Opponent Starting Quarterbacks in Scheduling Order
The quarterback position lends itself to starting guys who are either a.) wildly talented, or b.) mega experienced. Last year’s Tigers went up against nine quarterbacks who had at least four years of playing experience and the same is true for this year. Age and experience do not necessarily equate to “better” but having experience is certainly nice. The breakdown looks like this:
- 6th-year QBs: 2
- 5th-year QBs: 4
- 4th-year QBs: 3
- 3rd-year QBs: 2
- 2nd-year QBs: 1
Keep in mind these are the projected starters: who knows if a freshman, transfer, JUCO, or walk-on somehow wins the starting job for any of these schools in fall camp. But, for what it’s worth, there are two projected-starting quarterbacks that Missouri will face off against in 2023 that they also played against in 2022: Spencer Rattler and K.J. Jefferson, both of which they beat last year.
So, with all of the numbers out of the way, let's revisit the 2023 schedule one more time:
Last year’s schedule had a Bye Week bifurcation six weeks into the season; this year, no such luck. Missouri opens with eight straight games: three at home, then a neutral site trip to St. Louis, then alternating road/home splits with the next four opponents. The Tigers will get a Bye Week before heading to Athens, GA, then host Tennessee and Florida at home before closing out on the road against Arkansas. It also bears mentioning that three of the four toughest projected games happen in a three week span right after the Bye Week, from November 4th through the 18th.
The interesting quirk of this year’s schedule is that Missouri only plays four true road games: at Vanderbilt on September 30th, at Kentucky on October 14th, at Georgia on November 4th, and at Arkansas on Black Friday. Given Eli Drinkwitz’s proclivity to lose games on the road (3-11 so far), this is a good thing. And with the neutral site game being in St. Louis against Memphis, you could argue that it’s an 8-game “home” slate.
Could the mantra for this year be “just win your home games”? LSU and Tennessee are juggernauts so that’ll be a tough pitch to follow through on...but who knows what any of these teams will be once we hit Week 6 and Week 11? And if Drink is able to extend the Arkansas winning streak and get to 9 wins...
Well, that’s for later discussion. For now, this is the starting point for the grand endeavor that will begin in September.