▪ 2014 record: 11-3, 7-1 SEC (First in Eastern Division)
▪ Projected 2015 record: 9-3, 5-3 SEC
(This story is part of The Kansas City Star's Football 2015 special section that publishes Sunday, Aug. 30. Pick one up and check out more here.)
▪ Key starters lost: LT Mitch Morse, WR Bud Sasser, WR Jimmie Hunt, WR Darius White, RB Marcus Murphy, DE Shane Ray, DE Markus Golden, DT Lucas Vincent, DT Matt Hoch, SS Braylon Webb, DT Harold Brantley (injury)
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▪ Key starters returning: RG Connor McGovern, C Evan Boehm, QB Maty Mauk, RB Russell Hansbrough, TE Sean Culkin, LB Kentrell Brothers, LB Michael Scherer, LB Donavin Newsom, CB Kenya Dennis, CB Aarion Penton, FS Ian Simon
▪ Leading the charge: Quarterback Maty Mauk returns for his junior season and must be more consistent and accurate. He has to be more patient and use his legs more. If he does those things, the offense should have success moving the football and scoring points. During fall-camp scrimmages, wide receivers like Nate Brown and J’Mon Moore seemed to ease concerns about depth and talent at the position. But depth behind senior running back Russell Hansbrough looks shaky, especially with Morgan Steward’s status remaining cloudy after he missed last season because of a hip injury. Missouri’s secondary and linebacker corps are stacked with experience and proven talent. Much has been made of the transition to new defensive coordinator Barry Odom, but he spent time on the MU staff before moving on to Memphis and building one of the nation’s best defenses during the last three seasons.
▪ Potential roadblocks: Missouri’s defensive line has been an unquestioned strength of the team during its rise to power in the SEC East, but questions hound that unit in 2015. The Tigers lost all four starters — ends Shane Ray and Markus Golden and tackles Lucas Vincent and Matt Hoch — to graduation, then lost their best and most experienced returning player, Harold Brantley, to injuries sustained in a June car wreck. Hopes are high that sophomore Charles Harris will emerge as the next great Missouri defensive end. Junior tackle Josh Augusta needs to make a leap forward and left ends Marcell Frazier (junior-college transfer) and redshirt freshman Walter Brady must be ready for the SEC. Coaches hope freshman Terry Beckner Jr. can contribute significant productive minutes.
▪ End result: Missouri’s defense may not be as good as last season, with all of the attrition on the line, but the dropoff shouldn’t be dramatic. Even with the SEC championship game factored in, MU led the SEC in total defense (323.3 yards per game) and returns enough experience on the back end and talent in the trenches to feel comfortable. MU’s schedule also sets up favorably. Aside from a matchup with BYU on Nov. 14 at Arrowhead Stadium, the nonconference schedule shouldn’t trouble the Tigers. Missouri also gets South Carolina, Florida, Mississippi State and Tennessee at home. Road games at Kentucky and Vanderbilt aren’t gimmes, but those are games in which the Tigers should be favored. The other two SEC road games are the toughest on the schedule, at Georgia and at Arkansas to wrap up the regular season.
Blair Kerkhoff’s projection
at Arkansas State
BYU (at Arrowhead Stadium)