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Missouri and Arkansas were supposed to be two of the bottom-dwelling SEC schools in 2020. Both had new coaches, and the expectations were low for both programs in Year 1. Instead, both were surprises.
Arkansas had a 3-7 record, but that doesn’t adequately reflect their play on the field. The Tigers, on the other hand, finished 5-5 in Eli Drinkwitz’s first season, which was somewhat shocking, especially since three of those five losses were to Alabama, Florida and Georgia.
Back-to-back losses against the Bulldogs from the SEC East and West left a sour taste, but there’s hope for this program in 2021.
OutKick has been going through and breaking down the offseason outlooks for all 14 SEC teams. So, let’s have a closer look at Missouri and see how things could look in Drinkwitz’s second season in charge.
For other offseason outlooks from around the SEC, click here.
Key Losses: RB Larry Roundtree III; WR Damon Hazelton; RT Larry Borom; OG Dylan Spencer; LB Nick Bolton; S Tyree Gillespie; S Joshuah Bledsoe
Key Returning: QB Connor Bazelak; RB Tyler Badie; WR Keke Chism; WR Tauskie Dove; WR Jalen Knox; TE Niko Hea; C Michael Maietti; OG Case Cook; EDGE Trajan Jeffcoat; DT Kobie Whiteside; LB Devin Nicholson; S Martez Manuel, CB Ennis Rakestraw Jr.; K Harrison Mevis; P Grant McKinniss
Key Additions: WDE Travion Ford (4-star); WR Dominic Lovett (4); QB Tyler Macon (3); OT Connor Tollison (3); CB Jadarrius Perkins (JUCO); WR Mookie Cooper (TP, Ohio State); ILB Blaze Alldredge (TP, Rice); OG EJ Ndoma-Ogar (TP, Oklahoma)
Key Games: at Kentucky (Sept. 11); vs. Tennessee (Oct. 2); vs. Texas A&M (Oct. 16); at Georgia (Nov. 6); vs. South Carolina (Nov. 13); vs. Florida (No. 20); at Arkansas (Nov. 27)
Outlook: Missouri brought a balanced offensive approach to the table once Connor Bazelak replaced Shawn Robinson as the starting quarterback. The offense wasn’t perfect, but the passing attack showed signs of promise.
The biggest issue was the offensive line, but improvement is expected. The group welcomes back seven of the eight top linemen from last season, all of which played at least 150 snaps. In addition, Bazelak returns with a majority of his weapons in the passing game.
The offense does lose Larry Rountree III, a running back who rushed for 972 yards and 14 touchdowns in 10 games last year. He was by far the most consistent presence on that side of the football, but the versatile Tyler Badie and Elijah Young are expected to pick up the slack.
Defensively, things get interesting.
There are only three losses, but they’re doozies.
Linebacker Nick Bolton was the field general of the defense and should hear his name called on Day 1 or early Day 2 of the 2021 NFL draft. The man was everywhere and will be tough to replace. The losses of defensive backs Tyler Gillespie and Joshuah Bledsoe are also significant.
The return of Devin Nicholson and Martez Manuel should help in alleviating those losses at least somewhat, but it’s worth monitoring. A healthy Kobie Whiteside can also provide a boost along the defensive front.
With all the returning production, this is a team that could push for .500 — or maybe a bit better — for the second year in a row. The four non-conference games (Central Michigan, Southeast Missouri State, at Boston College and North Texas) are manageable for the most part.
If the Tigers can get a tough win against Boston College, then they would only need two wins from the following five games:
- at Kentucky
- vs. Tennessee
- at Vanderbilt
- vs. South Carolina
- at Arkansas
It’s not a guarantee, but it’s possible. In fact, it’s also possible that they could get to 7-5, but that’s probably the ceiling. Either way, Missouri will continue to be a mid- to low-tier SEC team this season, but they’re at least heading in the right direction.
Follow Clint Lamb on Twitter @ClintRLamb.