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Saturday live thread: Missouri, Athlon, and me

What are you up to on this lovely Saturday?

Not much going on in Mizzou land this weekend beyond freshmen reporting to campus... let's talk Athlon.

I again contributed to Athlon's preseason mags this year -- stats, an essay in the national preview, Missouri profile, etc. I'm not sure the essay (about what actually matters in preseason prediction/projections) is online yet, so I won't give too much about that away, but you can read part of the Missouri profile here. Nothing earth-shattering for readers of a Mizzou blog, but still...

Maty Mauk is nothing if not resilient: Mizzou’s junior quarterback played his best ball late in games and late in the season. The Missouri offense didn’t dominate, but it did enough to get out of the defense’s way late in the year. Mauk will be asked to raise his game significantly in 2015, however, as his receiving corps is about as green as green can be.

Losing all three starters for the second consecutive season will take a toll on anybody’s receiver depth, and it has left Mizzou with a black hole on an otherwise seasoned two-deep. Returning wideouts have combined for just 10 career catches, five from the "leading" returnee, sophomore Nate Brown. The lack of experience at wideout could mean Mizzou leans more heavily on the tight end position that returns starter Sean Culkin and athletic backups Jason Reese and Kendall Blanton.

If the passing game can avoid becoming a complete liability, the run game could thrive. Senior Russell Hansbrough rushed for 1,084 yards and 10 touchdowns last season; his return will make the loss of all-purpose star Marcus Murphy a bit more palatable.

Meanwhile, an offensive line that struggled early in 2014 jelled and became a strength as the season progressed. Potential All-SEC center Evan Boehm and three-year starter Connor McGovern return, as do three other seniors with starting experience.

Stuff of that nature.

You can also read Athlon's SEC projections online (and I had nothing to do with those). Prognosticators have no idea what to do with your Tigers this year. Each magazine or online preview seems to combine these two thoughts: A) "We don't give Gary Pinkel enough credit for the job he's doing in Columbia, and it's time we start to give them the benefit of the doubt." B) "We're picking Mizzou either third (behind Tennessee) or fourth (behind Tennessee and Florida) in the East." It's contradictory considering Mizzou's recent results vs. both of those teams, but it's hard to get a grasp for how much Mizzou's passing game might struggle, and it's hard to figure out how much Tennessee might improve as a young team (with lots of star recruits) becomes more experienced. Mizzou and Tennessee are projected almost dead even in S&P+, and while home field advantage still projects to give the Tigers the edge in that game, it's close, and Mizzou still gets Georgia (No. 3 in S&P+) and Arkansas (No. 12) on the road, while Tennessee's hardest conference road game after Alabama (No. 1) is Florida (No. 29).

Make of all that whatever you will, but it does make things pretty tough to project. And I'm not just saying that to defend people who paid me to write. (That said, it's really, really hard for me to justify any 'Florida over Mizzou' prediction.)

In its coverage, Athlon is trying to both remain reliable to old-school readers and innovate for readers looking for a little something new. That means Five Factors stats and some other stuff to go along with its 20,000-foot view. If you're looking for a preview mag to purchase, I recommend (and represent) it.