by Mizzou Matt
COLUMBIA, MO- It's not even the official end of the 2011 NCAA football season, and there is already speculation about 2012. Rumors are starting to float around about the University of Missouri's probable 2012 conference schedule, their first in the Southeastern Conference. According to the story at http://espn.go.com/blog/sec/post?id=35615, the Tigers' first year in conference will probably look something like this:
Those with a keen eye to detail (and a penchant for recent memories) will notice that if this is the layout of the '12 schedule, it will be the third year in a row traveling to College Station, TX to play the Aggies. Mizzou is 2-0 in their last two trips, but A&M still leads the overall series 7-5. Others might notice that this schedule is a slight variation of the one that was "leaked" by Tennessee a few weeks ago that put Ole Miss as one of Mizzou's probable SEC West opponents.
Realistically, Mizzou should win two of those four conference home games- Vanderbilt and Kentucky. The Tigers haven't played the Commodores since 1958 (last win was 1896), and they're currently on the losing end of a 1-2 series against the Wildcats, but those teams have been far removed from the national spotlight, even though Vanderbilt made it to the bowl season this year. The Georgia game could go either way, as the Bulldogs have found a resurgence since losing Matt Stafford to the NFL. The Dawgs played, and lost, in the SEC Championship this year, and they have excellent depth returning next season. But, if I had to put a peg on the first loss of the season, it'd be the Alabama game. I strongly feel the game against the Tide will most likely be the first loss in the SEC for Mizzou.
On the away side, however, the Tigers' recent victories against A&M (W 30-9 in 2010, W 38-31 F/OT in 2011) is not an indication of future success. Same goes for the Mizzou's 2-0 record against the Gamecocks of South Carolina. Their one and only meeting against Florida was in the 1960s, and the football squad has never faced off against Tennessee on the gridiron. Based upon those teams' past results, the S. Carolina game will be a tough one, especially if Marcus Lattimore can stay healthy. Florida had a down year in 2010, going just 5-7, but this year, their record is reversed and they're playing in a bowl game. As for Tennessee, they should just stick to basketball.
Steve Spurrier, coach of the Gamecocks, has built a solid recruiting platform in Columbia, SC, which is amazing considering that Clemson, Georgia, Georgia Tech, North Carolina State and Florida are all located within driving distance of the campus. Throw Auburn and Alabama in the mix as wild cards just to be safe. Mizzou head coach Gary Pinkel has put a coach in Atlanta and two coaches in Florida to try and get a head start on recruiting in an area that's dominated by Dawgs and Gators. Urban Meyer, who was coach of Florida, now the coach of Ohio State, still has strong ties in the Southeast region, and much to the discontent of the continued disgruntled moans of Gator fans, he'll exercise those ties to get players in the Buckeye scarlet and gray.
Based upon the schedule above, what can Tiger fans expect? I feel it is all based upon one overlying factor: RETURNING PERSONNEL.
We're losing our starting defensive line- Dominique Hamilton, Terrell Resonno, Jacquies Smith; though we do have depth that saw a large amount of playing time in 2011 in the forms of Sheldon Richardson, Brad Madison and Kony Ealy. (It's uncertain at this point if Richardson and Madison will return for senior and 5th-year seasons.) Linebacker Luke Lambert bids Mizzou a farewell, but with Zavier Gooden likely returning, and the announcement of Will Ebner coming back for a fifth year, they bring a presence and leadership that only veterans can bring. If Ebner stays healthy, the linebacker corps will be tough for Mizzou. The secondary is again depleted with the departures of Trey Hobson and Kenji Jackson, but some promising recruits, along with a vast selection of players that will be sophomores and juniors next year, are inbound just in time for the 2012 spring kickoff.
On the offensive side, the O-line is virtually gone. Dan Hoch, Austin Wuebbles, Jayson Palmgren are all graduating, along with Elvis Fisher, but the NCAA has granted Fisher a 6th year of eligibility due to his knee injury before the season started. Fisher has yet to decide to exercise that 6th year or not. The Tigers do have James Franklin coming back, and he'll have good support from Corbin Berkstresser, Ryan Howerton, and Ashton Glaser- the likely successor to the backup job. Incoming freshman Maty Mauk will provide for some interesting toying of the depth chart during spring ball, if Pinkel decides to not redshirt him in his first year. Franklin does have the upper hand on retaining his starting role, now with a full season of starts under his belt. Franklin also became just the second Tiger in history to rush for 10 and pass for 10 touchdowns in one season.
The receiving squad was led by T.J. Moe yet again in 2011. It's uncertain as of right now if T.J. will return for a senior season, or if he'll forgo and declare for the NFL draft. The Tigers are also losing All-American tight end Michael Egnew, along with wide receivers Wes Kemp and Jerrell Jackson. Top-rated wide receiver Dorial Green-Beckham hasn't decided on which college he'll take his talents to, but Mizzou is on his short list of possibilities. It's a long road ahead for Henry Josey, but his return can't be ruled out 100% yet. The sophomore tailback led the team with 1,100+ yards of rushing in '11.
Depending on who returns for the inaugural season in the SEC, the Tigers have a realistic chance of making it to a school-record 8th straight bowl game under Pinkel. Overall, we're looking at a relatively young team. Looking at the roster from this year, here's what we're looking at as far as age of the 2012 team (assuming those with eligibility remaining return, and the list includes some incoming freshmen, assuming they sign with Mizzou on Feb. 1)-
- Defensive backs
- Seven sophomores (Browning, Easterly, Johnson, Simon, X. Smith, Payton, B. Webb)
- Three juniors (Ponder, Gaines, Davis)
- Two seniors (Edwards, Steeples)
- Defensive line
- Six sophomores
- Three juniors
- Five seniors (Richardson, Madison, White, Struckhoff, Burge)
- Six sophomores
- Four juniors
- Two seniors (Ebner, Gooden)
- Offensive line
- 11 sophomores
- Three juniors
- Two seniors (Meiners, Ruth)
- Three sophomores (Brinser, Baggett, Owens)
- One senior (Trey Barrow)
- One freshman (Maty Mauk)
- Two sophomores (C. Berkstresser, K. Webb)
- Three juniors (Franklin, A. Glaser, R. Howerton)
- Three sophomores (White, Hunt Wright)
- Two juniors (Josey, Murphy)
- Two seniors (Lawrence, Culver)
- Tight End
- One freshman (Sean Culkin)
- One junior (Eric Waters)
- One senior (Stephen Drain)
- Wide Receiver
- Three sophomores (Hunt, Leftwich, Sasser)
- Five juniors (Clark, Lucas, Peasel, Stricker, Washington)
- Four seniors (Moe, McGaffie, Woodland, Joe Plevel)