It’s arrived — the 2017 season football season for Missouri.
Barry Odom’s second season kicks off at 11 a.m. Saturday against Dave Steckel’s Missouri State Bears at Memorial Stadium.
I figured fans might have a few questions, so as a public service I volunteered to answer them. And here we go:
Let’s start with safety Jordan Ulmer and defensive end Chris Turner, who were chosen as Preseason True Freshman All-Americans by 247Sports.
Not surprisingly, most of the newcomers expected to make a big impact come on defense. The Tigers return almost every starter from a record-setting offense last season, though not everybody kept those starting spots. Redshirt freshman Trystan Castillo won the starting center job in training camp and sophomore Tre’Vour Simms is in line to start at right guard.
Among potential impact newcomers, sophomore Yasir Durant, a transfer from Arizona Western, provides depth at the tackle spot in case of injury. Running back Larry Rountree will be brought along slowly, much like Damarea Crockett was as a freshman running back last season. But coaches and teammates rave about Rountree’s explosiveness and penchant for dragging defenders in scrimmages. He’ll carve out a role for himself, one that likely increases as the season goes along, with the offense.
Still, Mizzou’s defense is where more help was needed. The Tigers struggled with depth up front and consistency elsewhere during a surprisingly disappointing season in which they ranked last in the SEC in total defense and allowed 31.5 points per game.
Defensive line depth is where newcomers should make the biggest difference as five of the 10 players on the initial depth are new to MU.
Senior captain Jordan Harold and senior potential breakout star Marcell Frazier are listed as the starting ends, while junior Terry Beckner Jr. and sophomore Markell Utsey, who both had offseason ACL surgery, are in line to start at the tackle spots. But senior tackle A.J. Logan is the only returning reserve player to crack the depth chart ahead of Saturday’s game at Missouri State.
Turner, who draws comparisons to a young Shane Ray, and Nate Anderson, a transfer from the New Mexico Military Institute, are listed as the backup ends. Both will be in the rotation and asked to set a firm edge, while creating tackles for a loss and sacks as Mizzou reverts to its chug-upfield-and-create-havoc style.
Two other junior college transfers — juniors Rashad Brandon and Walter Palmore — provide interior depth along with freshman Kobie Whiteside. Brandon was a standout during spring practice and has some elite quickness that should help him create penetration, while Palmore is bigger and projects as a quality run-stuffer inside. Whiteside, meanwhile, might be the strongest player on the roster and plays with a dynamite motor.
At the linebacker spots, the only newcomer on the depth is Kansas State transfer Kaleb Prewett, a converted safety who’ll start at the Tigers’ hybrid overhang linebacker/safety spot. He’s got a chance to be a real difference-maker as does Ulmer and backup cornerback Adam Sparks, the only freshmen on the depth in the secondary.
Finally, linebacker Jamal Brooks will make an impact on special teams and could factor into the defensive rotation if there’s an injury. Linebacker Aubrey Miller and safety Joshuah Bledsoe also could work into the special teams rotation and push for playing time as the season goes along.
This won’t happen, but considering Mizzou has never lost to an FCS team I’d have to say it would be the biggest — certainly in recent history — for the program. I don’t know if it’s Chaminade beating Virginia in 1982, but it would be huge.
Are we should Missouri is guaranteed to be “dominating” yet? The hype for the Tigers is deserved, but let’s see the squad play a few games before making grand declarations about dominance. When Mizzou wins the SEC and makes the Final Four, you can freely use such terms. Deal?
That said, as great as Cuonzo Martin’s reputation is for defense, I think the offense will carry the team in 2017-18. Freshman Michael Porter Jr. is a scoring machine and we’ve seen that Kevin Puryear is capable of scoring 30 points in a game. He did it against Auburn in the SEC Tournament last season.
Senior Jordan Barnett and junior Terrence Phillips boast a few 20-point games in their careers, while senior Kassius Robertson, a graduate transfer from Canisius, scored 30 last year against Marist among eight 20-point games last season. Robertson also had six 20-point games as a sophomore, so he’s a proven and capable scorer.
Junior Jordan Geist has yet to score 20 for Mizzou, but he’s shown that he can fill it up at times as well and we haven’t even talked about Jeremiah Tilmon, who should be a double-figure scorer most nights, or Jontay Porter, a smooth-shooting lefty with range, or guards C.J. Roberts and Blake Harris, who averaged more than 20 points per game as high school players.
That’s an immense amount of firepower and with so many capable shooters and scorers, it’s hard to imagine many games where somebody isn’t making shots. That should help Missouri avoid the prolonged scoring droughts that plagued the team the last few seasons. I wouldn’t be shocked if the Tigers approach 80 points per game, to be honest. That’s based on nothing but an understanding of the scoring capability of the pieces on the roster.
Still, the team will only go as far as defense and rebounding takes it. If Martin can get the squad to play reasonably well in those areas, coupled with the scoring talent, the Tigers are going to be tough to beat every single night.
To be clear, I put more stock in how many minutes a guy plays rather than if he’s a starter, but I’m more than happy to break down the Mizzou roster’s scholarship players:
Point guards (3) — Terrence Phillips, Blake Harris, Jordan Geist
Shooting guards (3) — Kassius Robertson, C.J. Roberts, Cullen VanLeer
Wing/small forward (2) — Michael Porter Jr., Jordan Barnett
Power forwards (3) — Kevin Puryear, Jontay Porter, Mitchell Smith
Centers (2) — Jeremiah Tilmon, Reed Nikko
Obviously, these positions aren’t set in stone. Roberts, for instance, is a combo guard and play the point if needed. The same is true for VanLeer. Mitchell Smith, who is still working his way back from a torn ACL, has some range. If he improves his handle, he might be able to play some on the wing. Same with Jontay, though his big body makes him ideally suited as a stretch four or undersized center, when needed.
Personally, I think Phillips remains the starter at point guard, especially early in the season. He’s got the experience, but he’s also very comfortable being a distributor for a loaded basketball team from his days at Oak Hill Academy. Phillips could have a fantastic season, picking his spots to be a scorer rather than having to be a scorer every night to give Mizzou a chance. The coaches love Geist’s toughness and feistiness. He’ll see the floor, but Harris probably has more raw talent. He’ll get more minutes as he develops, gains confidence and gets comfortable.
Again, experience matters in my mind, which I why I think Robertson has the edge at two guard. Roberts missed most of his senior prep season with a stress fracture in his foot, but he’s healthy again and provides tenacity off the bench in that situation. It’s a great situation for the backcourt.
Um, Michael Porter Jr. at the three, but his ability — and the versatility of other guys — provide options. He could play some two guard, if Martin wants to go big, and some power forward, if the Tigers prefer a quicker and smaller lineup against a particular opponent. There also will be plenty of times Porter and Barnett on the floor together might make sense. Barnett was Mizzou’s best athlete last season and is so excited to play with this group, he could be a revelation as a senior.
Puryear will be tough to unseat at the four. He may not be the most athletically gifted player on the roster, but he’s got such grit, heart and toughness. He’s an intense competitor and ought to thrive now that he won’t necessarily the team’s top option and, thus, the focal point of opposing defenses. Jontay Porter off the bench should be a terrifying thought to opponents.
At center, Tilmon play as much as foul trouble and his legs allow him. He’s athletic enough that he won’t slow down the Tigers’ offense, which is expected to be active and look to run whenever possible. When Tilmon needs a break, Nikko still gives Missouri some rim-protection and rebounding. He’s well-suited for such a role, but Puryear and Jontay Porter also can slide into the paint if the game situation dictates.
For Iowa State, I’d guess Phillips, Robertson, Porter Jr., Puryear and Tilmon start, but Martin may have other ideas.