At first blush, the schedule sets up favorably for Missouri to make a run at a third consecutive SEC East division championship.
The biggest hurdle appears to be an Oct. 17 game at Georgia. The season finale at Arkansas also sets up as a major challenge if the Razorbacks succeed in building off last season.
But with South Carolina, Florida, Mississippi State and Tennessee at home, the meat of the SEC slate will play out at Memorial Stadium*.
* It’s probably worth noting at this point that the Tigers are 6-2 at home and 8-0 on the road during regular-season conference play the last two seasons.
For once, Missouri gets to ease into SEC play a bit, opening Sept. 26 at Kentucky — a program that hasn’t been to a bowl game since 2010 — followed by consecutive home games.
That contrasts with an opener against Aaron Murray/Todd Gurley/Jarvis Jones-led Georgia (2012), back-to-back road games at Vanderbilt and Georgia (2013) or being thrown into the Williams-Brice tumult at South Carolina right off the bat (2014).
BYU at Arrowhead Stadium is the signature game of the non-conference slate, but the Tigers get a few extra days to prepare for that game after battling Mississippi State in a Thursday night affair the previous week.
Bowl eligibility shouldn’t be an issue, but that is always subject to change depending on the health of key Tigers players.
The loss of Harold Brantley for the season already is a damaging blow. MU’s roster certainly can’t absorb many similar losses without a significant adjustment of expectations.
I’ve got Missouri going 9-3, 5-3 in conference.
2015 MISSOURI FOOTBALL SCHEDULE
Sept. 5 — Southeast Missouri at Missouri
Time/TV: 3 p.m./SEC Network Alternate
About the Redhawks: SEMO reached the Football Championship Series playoffs once, losing in the first round in 2010. The Redhawks went 5-7 in coach Tom Matukewicz’s first season and nearly rallied to victory at Kansas. There is some talent on SEMO’s roster, most notably senior wide receiver Paul McRoberts. He’s already drawn the attention of NFL scouts and will test Missouri’s corners. Former Kansas State quarterback Tay Bender, who led Iowa Western to the junior-college national title game last season, shouldn’t be underestimated nor should senior running back DeMichael Jackson.
The skinny: It’s a game that’s meant to ease the Tigers into the season, so it’s as close to a gimme as Missouri has on its schedule. Anything less than a blowout win would be akin to a loss.
Prediction: MU, 49-9
Sept. 12 — Missouri at Arkansas State
Time/TV: 6 p.m./none (streaming at ESPN3.com)
About the Red Wolves: The top three rushers — tailbacks Michael Gordon and Johnston White along with quarterback Fredi Knighten, who combined for 2,393 yards and 30 touchdowns last season — and top three receivers — Tres Houston, Dijon Paschal and J.D. McKissic — return. But the defense lost four of its top seven tacklers. Safety Money Hunter is back, but that is only noted because he’s got an awesome name.
The skinny: Arkansas State went 7-6 in its first season under Blake Anderson last year, appearing in a fourth consecutive GoDaddy.com Bowl and getting romped 63-44 by a Toledo team that Missouri tore apart in a road non-conference game four months earlier. The Red Wolves’ fans really want to believe this is a winnable game and, while the Tigers shouldn’t be cocky, it’s not unreasonable to confidently predict a comfortable win.
Prediction: MU, 38-20
Sept. 19 — Connecticut at Missouri
Time/TV: 11 a.m./ESPNU
Fan event: Tigers Stripe/Family Weekend
About the Huskies: There are no Don Browns or Dan Orlovskys on the 2015 UConn team. The Huskies’ top rusher last season, Ron Johnson, had 429 yards, the top returner passer, Tim Boyle, had 335 yards and the top returning receiver, Noel Thomas, had 305 yards.
The skinny: Connecticut had trouble shaking Villanova, an FCS program (albeit a good one), in its season opener. Coming off a 2-10 season, that shouldn’t inspire any confidence the Huskies are ready to win on the road against a quality SEC opponent.
Prediction: MU, 41-10
Sept. 26 — Missouri at Kentucky
About the Wildcats: This might be the year the Wildcats return to a bowl game, but it will probably take at least one upset to make it happen. Quarterback Patrick Towles (225 of 393 for 2,718 yards, 14 touchdowns and nine interceptions) returns along with Kentucky’s leading rusher (Stanley Williams) and leading receiver (Ryan Timmons) from last season.
The skinny: Defense might be the Wildcats’ strength led by linebacker Josh Forrest, who led the team with 110 tackles last season, and safety A.J. Stamps. It remains to be seen if the offense can carry its weight in Mark Stoops’ third season.
Prediction: MU, 31-20
Oct. 3 — South Carolina at Missouri
Fan event: Gold Rush
About the Gamecocks: The Old Ball Coach’s squad seems to be in for another difficult season after going 7-6 last season. Sophomore Connor Mitch should grow through the season, but none of the weapons around him are terrifying other than wide receiver Pharoh Cooper. Cooper had 69 receptions for 1,136 yards and nine touchdowns, added 200 yards and two scores rushing, threw for two more touchdowns and is a dangerous return man.
The skinny: The Gamecocks and Tigers have a nice budding rivalry. The visiting team has staged furious fourth-quarter rallies en route to victory the last two seasons, but it probably doesn’t happen again.
Prediction: MU, 27-17
Oct. 10 — Florida at Missouri
Fan event: 104th Homecoming
About the Gators: First-year coach Jim McElwain will get the Gators going again, but it probably won’t happen right away. Quarterback Treon Harris has accuracy issues and Florida has protection issues on offense. Neither are a quick fix.
The skinny: There’s a lot of talent on both sides of the ball, including running back Kelvin Taylor and wide receiver Demarcus Robinson along with cornerback Vernon Hargreaves Jr. and linebacker Antonio Morrison. Sleep on Florida at your own peril.
Prediction: MU, 31-24
Oct. 17 — Missouri at Georgia
About the Bulldogs: Georgia has to be miffed about rocking Missouri 34-0 and still finishing second behind Gary Pinkel’s crew in the SEC East last season. Running back Nick Chubb is a beat on offense and linebacker Jordan Jenkins is a stud on defense.
The skinny: The Dawgs have a new quarterback again, but Greyson Lambert isn’t your average transfer. He was a captain at Virginia last season before transferring after losing his starting job during the spring. As a graduate-student transfer, Lambert’s eligible immediately.
Prediction: Georgia, 41-31
Oct. 24 — Missouri at Vanderbilt
About the Commodores: Coach Derek Mason took over as defensive coordinator after Vanderbilt allowed 33.3 points per game last season. Twelve of the Commodores’ 13 leading tacklers and nine starters return on defense, but the offense — aside from running back Ralph Webb — remains a work in progress.
The skinny: If there’s a trap game on the Tigers’ schedule, this is it. Missouri will be coming off a critical game at Georgia with hefty division-title implications. The national spotlight against a Mississippi State team that spent time ranked No. 1 last season awaits after a bye week. Smack dab in the middle is a game at rebuilding Vanderbilt.
Prediction: MU, 27-13
Nov. 5 — Mississippi State at Missouri
Time/TV: 8 p.m. (ESPN)
About the Bulldogs: Quarterback Dak Prescott is back. That makes Mississippi State dangerous. He rushed for 986 yards, passed for 3,449 yards and created 41 touchdowns last season.
The skinny: Graduation took a heavy toll on the Bulldogs, who return only four starters on offense and only three on defense. It’s reasonable to suspect coach Dan Mullen’s will take a step back, but this probably remains a much tougher game than many expect.
Prediction: Mississippi State, 24-20
Nov. 14 — Missouri vs. BYU at Arrowhead Stadium
About the Cougars: BYU put together a ridiculous schedule that opens with a visit to Nebraska, Boise State at home and road games at UCLA and Michigan. Led by fringe Heisman Trophy candidate Taysom Hill, who threw for 975 yards and rushed for 460 yards in five games before a knee injury ended his season in 2014.
The skinny: The Cougars won’t be intimidated by Missouri or playing at Arrowhead Stadium. During the last five seasons, BYU owns wins against plenty of Power Five programs, including Washington, Mississippi, Oregon State, Washington State, Virginia, California, Georgia Tech twice and Texas twice.
Prediction: MU, 38-28
Nov. 21 — Tennessee at Missouri
Fan event: Blackout
About the Volunteers: Tennessee is a trendy pick to win the SEC East, but coach Butch Jones’ squad hasn’t shown much on the field in recent years to suggest that’s definitely going to happen. The Vols are 3-7 on the road and 1-11 against ranked teams in Jones’ two seasons in Knoxville, Tenn.
The skinny: With 10 returning starters on offense and eight on defense, it’s understandable why people believe this is Tennessee’s year. Quarterback Josh Dobbs and running back Jalen Hurd along with a deep receiving corps as well as seven of the top-nine leading tacklers from last season.
Prediction: MU, 31-27
Nov. 27 — Missouri at Arkansas
Time/TV: 1:30 p.m./CBS
Fan event: Battle Line Rivalry
About the Razorbacks: Losing running back Johnathan Williams for the season is a blow, but Alex Collins rushed for 1,100 and 12 touchdowns last season behind a ridiculously large and talented offensive line that returns mostly intact. Quarterback Brandon Allen threw 20 touchdowns and only five interceptions last season and has started 25 games the last three seasons.
The skinny: Arkansas’ defense is stingy, its defense is wonky and coach Bret Bielema’s program is on the upswing. Bowl positioning will be on the line and it’s possible one or even both teams also could be playing for a spot in the SEC Championship Game.
Prediction: Arkansas, 28-17
Dec. 5 — SEC Championship Game at Atlanta’s Georgia Dome
About the SEC West: Missouri plays Mississippi State and Arkansas from the SEC West, which many would say is the deeper and better half. Look for Auburn or Alabama to emerge once again for a march on Atlanta, but be leery of LSU and the dark-horse Razorbacks. Texas A&M might also be better than many expect, though it’s tough to pencil in the Aggies atop the division.
The skinny: Obviously, Missouri isn’t guaranteed to play in this game. But considering that the Tigers have represented the SEC East in it the last two seasons, it seemed appropriate to tack it on at the end of the schedule. Georgia, which plays at Auburn and hosts Alabama, is probably the favorite on paper and Tennessee, which plays at Alabama and hosts Arkansas, is the trendy pick, but Missouri is certainly in that top-three mix. The Tigers have a more favorable schedule, so a split with the Bulldogs and Volunteers puts a third straight Georgia Dome appearance in play.
Prediction: Auburn def. Georgia 41-28