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South Carolina 2016 opponent preview: Missouri a team in transition despite defensive talent

A strong defense will lead to a few wins, but last year’s putrid offense will need to take big steps.

NCAA Football: SEC Media Day Butch Dill-USA TODAY Sports

The Missouri Tigers have been on a somewhat similar path as the Gamecocks in recent years. Both suffered descents last year (the Tigers went 5-7 in 2015 after back-to-back SEC East titles; the Gamecocks have gone 10-15 in the past two seasons after going 33-6 from 2011 to 2013). Both have experienced coaching changes, albeit for completely different reasons: Gary Pinkel stepped down from the Mizzou post after a diagnosis of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma; Steve Spurrier stepped aside to preserve what was quickly becoming a fading legacy. Both hired defensive-minded coaches - Barry Odom, promoted from DC at Mizzou, and Will Muschamp, hoping to rehab his career after a failed stint at Florida and a one-year spell as Gus Malzahn’s DC at Auburn.

But while Missouri as a university steps into a transition of its own - the least of which include a new head coach, a new president, instability in the athletic department, an embattled softball coach, and the continued recovery from a series of race-related on-campus protests leading to a player strike that even Pinkel himself supported - you could argue that they’re in much-better shape talent-wise than the Gamecocks are. The Odom-led defense was fifth in FBS in points allowed (16.2) while ranking ninth in YPG allowed (301), seventh in passing yards allowed (169.3), and 25th in yards per game given up on the ground (131.9). But as good as the defense was, the offense was dreadful: bottom ten in FBS in rushing offense, 14th-worst in passing offense, and an anemic 13.6 PPG - only Kent State (13.1) scored fewer points. The Tigers were (ironically) Bill C’s team of the day when I wrote this; he does an excellent job of breaking down the advanced stats surrounding the team. Also, when I wrote this, it was just over 24 hours after Walter Brady (seven sacks, 11.5 TFLs in 2015) and Harold Brantley (who hadn’t played since 2014 following a car accident) were both kicked off the program. Mizzou’s challenge will be replacing that talent lost on the line (as well as stud LB Kentrell Brothers) and simply hoping that the offense as a whole can take huge strides from last year’s effort.

Last year: 5-7 (1-7 SEC)

Best returning player: Charles Harris

NCAA Football: SE Missouri State at Missouri Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

We mentioned talent lost in the line, but that’s not to say they’re completely devoid of talent up there. Enter Harris, who recorded seven sacks and 18.5 TFLs as a sophomore in 2015. Another solid season should move him up the draft boards - he’s already projecting as at worst a first round pick but could potentially skyrocket to the top 10.

Prognosis: Sure, things will be (somewhat) stable offensively with Drew Lock returning, along with his two top receivers (plus Alabama transfer Chris Black), the leading rusher (Ish Witter), and tight end Sean Culkin. But the fact that the offense was very poor last year, coupled with a young right side of the o-line, says that it’s a group that will have to flourish in a hurry under the guidance of new offensive coordinator Josh Heupel (formerly at Oklahoma and Utah State). Like last year, the defense, led by Harris, will keep them in games (and win them some as well), but unless Heupel can successfully deploy his system with immediate results, there are just so many questions on the other side of the ball right now to foresee them being a legitimate force.