Projected record: 9-3, 5-3 SEC (third in East)
2013 record: 12-2, 7-1 SEC (won East, lost SEC title game)
Key starters lost: CB E.J. Gaines, LB Andrew Wilson, RB Henry Josey, RT Justin Britt, DE Michael Sam, DE Kony Ealy, QB James Franklin, WR L’Damian Washington, WR Dorial Green-Beckham, WR Marcus Lucas, G Max Copeland, LB Donovan Bonner, FS Matt White, CB Randy Ponder
Key starters returning: C Evan Boehm, SS Braylon Webb, NG Lucas Vincent, DT Matt Hoch, LT Mitch Morse, RT Connor McGovern, P Christian Brinser, K Andrew Baggett
Leading the charge: Redshirt sophomore quarterback Maty Mauk isn’t technically the returning starter, but he did start four games last season and led the Tigers to a 3-1 record against SEC opponents. He’s the face of Missouri’s team now, and its unquestioned leader, so he’ll need a steady hand to pilot an offense that averaged nearly 40 points per game but has to replace three starting wide receivers, its main tailback and top tight end. Fortunately, Missouri returns three starters on the offensive line, providing a solid foundation with junior center Evan Boehm, senior left tackle Mitch Morse and junior right tackle Connor McGovern.
Potential roadblocks: Wide receivers. Missouri’s defense has holes to fill, particularly at linebacker, but there appears to be tremendous depth on that side of the ball. Mauk’s targets are more of a question mark. The Tigers lost 74 percent of last season’s receptions, 83 percent of their receiving yards and 87 percent of their receiving touchdowns. Seniors Bud Sasser, Jimmie Hunt and Darius White have big shoes to fill and, especially after Dorial Green-Beckham’s dismissal and Levi Copelin’s suspension, the depth is young and lacks experience.
End result: Missouri is past expecting to merely make a bowl game after reaching the SEC championship game and finishing fifth in the nation last season. The SEC East should be tougher, and a three-game gantlet — at South Carolina (Sept. 27), versus Georgia (Oct. 11) and at Florida (Oct. 18) — will determine whether the Tigers can muscle their way into the national-title picture again. The Tigers should be 4-0 after non-conference play. From there, the team’s health and a few bounces of the ball will determine how magical 2014 becomes.
South Dakota State
at South Carolina
at Texas A&M
| Projections by The Star’s Blair Kerkhoff