With the 2019 season edging ever-closer to us, the tension and excitement is palpable, and Mizzou fans are as excited for a season as I can remember. As I’ve said before, it certainly feels like there’s a different level of momentum the program has right now in comparison to the last few years. It’s refreshing.
So SBN Nation asked us to answer five questions about the 2019 Mizzou Football season. In order, they were: 1) Who is your most important player on offense this season? 2) Who is your most important player on defense this season? 3) What should be the biggest change between last year and this year? 4) What is the most important game on this schedule, and why? 5) What is your prediction for W/L record and postseason destination?
So, here is how I’m choosing to answer these questions:
Kelly Bryant has to be the most valuable player on offense
Importance in most offenses tend to come down the quarterback, don’t they? If your quarterback is good at things, you tend to score points. I know... it’s revolutionary, right?
With Bryant it’s more than his ability to throw or run; it’s also his leadership.
Bryant can be an efficient passer, so having healthy reliable pass catchers is going to be a key for the passing game. Albert Okwuegbunam, Jonathan Nance, Kam Scott, and Johnathan Johnson are all going to play roles. But there should be enough depth there if any of them falter, and Drew Lock proved last year you can spread the ball around and still find success.
Larry Rountree III and the running game will get a new dimension with Bryant’s legs also. With Rountree, Tyler Badie, Simi Bakare and an experienced offensive line, the Tigers look like they could be one of the best rushing teams in the SEC.
This all comes down to Bryant and his ability to extend drives, which, if he’s able to do so, the season is probably trending the right way.
Jordan Elliot needs to lead the defensive surge
As Brandon Kiley detailed in his column on Odom’s defense, the Missouri defense was depleted from a talent perspective a few years ago and Odom has taken them from 85th in Defensive S&P+ in his first year to 24th last year.
For the first time there’s reason to feel reasonably confident this team is ready to be an upper tier unit. But where they were once one of the more feared defensive lines, Odom has struggled to get the performance when it comes to attacking the offensive backfield. They’ve filled gaps (7th in rushing defense), but haven’t gotten to the quarterback (70th in passing defense) despite having good talent in the secondary.
Having a versatile defensive lineman who is capable of collapsing the pocket from the inside should help the less experienced rushers on the outside. The clear answer to that problem is Jordan Elliot, the highly rated transfer from Texas who had his moments last season but could be due for a breakout.
A less explosive but more consistent offense is the key to taking the next step
Missouri’s offense behind Drew Lock was so prone to a quick strike score it became a hindrance at times to the defense. When hiring his new offensive coordinator last year, Odom made a point to find someone who could help him strike a balance. More efficient offense, giving the defense ample time to rest, can make the defense more aggressive.
We saw it in stretches last season, but the offense still had long spells of inefficiency last year when Lock was down one or two of his top targets. Hopefully, the insertion of Bryant behind center with the threat to run is enough to keep the offense moving the ball down the field.
Get off to a fast start, and beat South Carolina
There are plenty of important games on the schedule, and I’m sure Odom will tell you no game is more important than the next one. Missouri has to find a way to avoid the early season hiccups they’ve encountered the last few seasons because the back end of the schedule is far more difficult.
The set up is easy to see— win in Laramie, beat West Virginia in your home opener and take care of business against SEMO. Then you have South Carolina, a team who Odom has struggled to beat the last few years (0-3).
Getting to 4-0 could mean a step up for a program which has started 2-2, 1-3, and 3-1 the last three seasons. Getting that 4-0 momentum could easily turn to 6-0 before a couple road games against Vanderbilt and Kentucky. So it’s important to beat South Carolina because Missouri could be looking at an 8-0 start with the right breaks. I’m not predicting that... but it’s there for them.
My record prediction: 9-3
I think I’m being reasonable here. The optimist in me looks at how the schedule lays out and thinks that an 8-0 start is something that could turn into a really surprising record, along the lines of 11-1. But I don’t want to get carried away, there’s still the Mizzou fan in me looking for how things will all go wrong.
Maybe it’s the changes in temperature with recruiting, or the fact that the growth and build has been steady, but I feel like a lot is on the table for this team. Regardless of what happens with the NCAA and the appeal of the post season ban, Missouri has a real chance to have a special season.