2013 Record: 9-5 (5-3)
Series History: Never met
Last Meeting: N/A
Player to Watch: South Dakota State running back Zach Zenner
2014 Projection: 8-4 (5-3)
Last year, Missouri football's season opener against Murray State was an easy blowout. This year, the Racers' Football Championship Subdivision colleague, South Dakota State, may present a bigger challenge for the Tigers.
The Jackrabbits of South Dakota State, this season’s opening opponent, have something the Racers did not – a star.
In his three seasons as a Jackrabbit, senior running back Zach Zenner has racked up 4,529 rushing yards and 39 touchdowns. He has rushed for more than 2,000 yards twice, as a sophomore (2,044 yards) and a junior (2,015).
Last season, Zenner went on an absolute tear, with 23 touchdowns alongside his 2,015 rushing yards, both within the top five in all of the FCS.
The senior topped the century mark in 12 of 14 games in 2013, including three games in which he surpassed 200 yards. Zenner rushed for 249 yards in a late-season game against Northern Arizona, and posted a 202-yard performance against Nebraska.
But the most impressive performance of his junior campaign was his game against North Dakota. Zenner ran wild for 295 yards and, in the process, tied the school record for most yards in a single game, a record that he had set as a sophomore in 2012.
Zenner led the FCS in rushing as a sophomore and finished second as a junior, far ahead of his closest trailers. He was also named a FCS All-American for the second time after his junior season and became the first player ever to be named a two-time finalist for the Walter Payton Award, the FCS equivalent of the Heisman Trophy, given to the nation’s most outstanding player.
And if Zenner is able to duplicate his success for a third straight season of rushing for more than 2,000 yards on the ground, he will end his career as the all-time rushing leader in FCS and all of Division I history.
Zenner has a legitimate chance at history, and his senior year march toward the record books will begin when he leads his Jackrabbits into Faurot Field Aug. 30. With the losses of star defensive ends Michael Sam and Kony Ealy from last year’s squad, the Tigers might have some trouble containing the senior star.
Senior defensive end Markus Golden and his counterpart, junior Shane Ray, will have quite the task ahead of them in their first game as the undisputed starters.