First Practice: March 12th
Spring Game: April 20th
Missouri got a rude awakening to life in the SEC to say the least and at times it was simply brutal to watch as the Tigers scratched their way to a 2-6 conference record and a below .500 mark (5-7) for the first time in nine years. Of course a healthy James Franklin at quarterback may have helped matters a bit, but alas one of the more important QB's in the SEC East saw himself hurt more than he was healthy in 2012 and it led to a less than stellar season for the veteran signal caller.
Of course, missing Franklin was only part of the problem for Mizzou last season, they also gave up a crap ton of points (28.5 points per game) to their opponents and that needs to change if this team is going to be successful in the SEC.
Heading into 2013 the Tigers will look to hopefully build off the hard lessons they learned last season and with it return to bowl eligibility, something it failed to gain for the first time since the 2004 season in 2012.
Stability Factor (1= chaos, 5= rock solid): 2.5
There are a lot of people questioning the ability of the spread offense to work for Missouri in the SEC (even though Texas A&M proved a version of it sure can work) and head coach Gary Pinkel is certainly on the hot seat in Columbia. You would be to after finishing with your first losing season in almost a decade and winning just 2 games in your new conference home and seeing home attendance figures dropping too.
Along with that is the fact that there are just 39 returning letterman and questions at Quarterback, the offensive and defensive lines, and in the secondary and you begin to see why the pressure is on to get back to winning football or make some changes to compete in the SEC.
Under the Microscope: Offensive Line
Part of the James Franklin health issue last season simply had to do with the fact that offensive line couldn't handle life in the SEC very well. That needs to change, especially since Mizzou's version of the spread offense is coming under question this season.
They need to keep Franklin upright and to give this offense time to be able to run it's offense effectively. Last year the Tigers O-Line gave up 29 sacks in 12 games, a number that's simply unacceptable. With four starters that all started 9 games or more back this season they've got to show some growth or this team could be in for more suffering, especially facing both Ole Miss and Texas A&M out of the SEC West as their two cross-divisional games.
Locked and Loaded: Running Back
There may be a lot of competition at this position, but it's also perhaps the deepest of the positions on the roster heading into the start of spring practices and that's because 2011 leading rusher Henry Josey is back in the fold and has been timed at a 4.44 second 40 yard dash entering spring. He had 1,168 yards (8.1avg) and 9TD's back in 2011 and adding him to the mix of Russell Hansbrough and Marcus Murphy, who both had success in limited action last year could give this team a strong backbone to play off of and relieve some pressure on Franklin and the passing game.
Jockeying for Position: Linebacker
Sure, Andrew Wilson is back and is the leading returning tackler on this team, but the other two starting positions are open for the taking and there isn't a single linebacker on the spring roster that has ANY experience to speak of. No, seriously – not a single solitary other linebacker listed as a starter on the spring depth chart has recorded a tackle.
The biggest battle to watch is between Darvin Ruise and Kentrall Brothers at the weakside linebacker position. Brothers played in 11 games and recorded 14 tackles last season as a backup, but Ruise is listed at the top of the depth chart despite recording half of the tackles and that's because he may be the more intriguing prospect.
With the defensive line having issues this group needs to find some answers this spring so it can help turn around a unit that struggled as whole last year.
Name to Know: Maty Mauk, Quarterback
Franklin has proven to not be reliable in terms of his health and his 2012 season wasn't great to begin with. All of that means there needs to be a viable option behind him and that means a competition for the backup QB spot. Expect Mauk, a redshirt freshman to be deeply in the mix as he may have the biggest arm on this team. He's the one guy that has the most upside, especially considering Corbin Berkstresser didn't exactly light the world on fire last season, completing less than 50% of his passes
Spring Will be a Success If…. The lines improve.
We're not reinventing the wheel by telling you winning football games start up front or anything, but in the SEC that's true more than ever and life in the spread-happy Big 12 is vastly different than what you need in the more balanced and physical conference they now call home. If Mizzou shows improvement and a renewed emphasis on both the offensive and defensive line then spring can be a big success for them.