#25 MISSOURI TIGERS
Missouri’s muddled quarterback picture cleared up in early May with Tyler Gabbert’s surprising announcement that he intended to transfer. Gabbert, the younger brother of 2010 Tiger starter Blaine Gabbert, emerged from spring practice virtually even on the depth chart with sophomore James Franklin. With Gabbert out of the picture, the job will fall to Franklin, who played sparingly in certain offensive packages as Blaine Gabbert’s backup last season.
Franklin, a former 4-star recruit, will have plenty of experienced receivers to throw to. All 14 players who caught a pass for the Tigers last year are back, including leading receiver T.J. Moe (92 receptions for 1,045 yards) and Walter Camp All-America tight end Michael Egnew.
Missouri also returns its top three rushers. De’Vion Moore’s 517 yards led a balanced running back rotation that included Henry Josey (437 yards) and Kendial Lawrence (422). Four returning starters on the line should open up more running lanes and help protect the new quarterback. Left tackle Elvis Fisher has a string of 40 consecutive starts, and Dan Hoch and Austin Wuebbels are entering their third season as starters for a unit that boasts four seniors with a combined 108 starts.
Despite losing its most feared playmaker in Aldon Smith, who also left early for the NFL, production from this unit could be better. Ends Jacquies Smith and Brad Madison combined for 13 sacks and 21 tackles for a loss last year, with Madison leading the team in both categories. Redshirt freshman Kony Ealy has received comparisons to Aldon Smith after adding 40 pounds from his listed weight of 210 when he first arrived on campus. The return of nose tackle Dominique Hamilton from an ankle injury will be critical to the success of the defense, which struggled when he was lost for the final six games of 2010. Heralded recruit Sheldon Richardson could also be a difference-maker. Considered the nation’s top line recruit two years ago, he’s finally expected to take Faurot Field after a junior college detour.
Missouri’s had a linebacker on the All-Big 12 team in six of the past seven years, and Zaviar Gooden could add to that number if he improves on an impressive sophomore campaign that saw him lead the Tigers with 85 tackles. Will Ebner and Luke Lambert have considerable starting experience, but injuries sidelined the two seniors for a combined 12 games last year. Strong safety Kenji Jackson is the lone returning starter from a secondary that helped the Tigers improve their national ranking from 104th to 37th in pass defense, but Missouri might possess more playmakers in its secondary than it’s had in years.
Combining field goals and extra points, senior Grant Ressel has missed only five kicks in 132 attempts the past two years, with a long field goal of 50 yards. Trey Barrow handled the kickoff duties last year and will likely take over at punter.
Plenty returns from a team that reached 10 wins for the third time in four years, but the lack of experience at quarterback adds a lot of intrigue as the Tigers attempt to compete at the top of the reconfigured Big 12 Conference. Franklin will have only one game under his belt before a nationally televised Friday night game at Arizona State, and Big 12 play begins two weeks later with a Sept. 22 trip to Oklahoma.
T.J. Moe WR: Made miraculous catch and run to rally Tigers past San Diego State and continued big-play production en route to 1,045 yards.
Dominique Hamilton NT: Defense wasn’t the same when 300-pounder suffered season-ending ankle injury in Oklahoma win.
Michael Egnew TE: Continued the legacy of Tiger tight ends in first season as a starter by catching 90 passes and earning Walter Camp All-America honors.
Brad Madison DE: Started only two games last year but still led Tigers with 7.5 sacks and 11 tackles behind the line. ,
Zaviar Gooden LB: Posted a team-high 85 tackles in his first season as a starter.
Sept. 3rd Miami (OH)
Sept. 9th at Arizona State
Sept. 17th Western Illinois
Sept. 24th at Oklahoma
Oct. 8th at Kansas State
Oct. 15th Iowa State
Oct. 22nd Oklahoma State
Oct. 29th at Texas A&M
Nov. 5th at Baylor
Nov. 12th Texas
Nov. 19th Texas Tech
Nov. 26th Kansas (@ Kansas City, MO)