Preview: Missouri returns strong core, adds Bryant in Odom’s fourth season

The Maneater’s football writers gave their way-too-early SEC conference rankings and explanations for Missouri’s standing.

In its best season under coach Barry Odom to date, Missouri football finished in the No. 24 spot of the AP Top-25 Poll and tied for fourth in the SEC East at the end of the regular season. After a 3-0 out-of-conference start, the Tigers struggled against conference opponents, losing to South Carolina after a third quarter rainstorm and Kentucky with the clock expired. Odom’s job stability came into question because of the Kentucky loss, but a 38-17 road win over then-No.11 Florida along with the announcement of Kelly Bryant’s transfer to MU secured Odom a 2-year contract extension and a $6,000 raise.

With SEC Media Days set for July 15-18, preseason All-SEC honors have yet to be announced. Only two returning Missouri players were named to All-SEC teams following the conclusion of the 2018 season: rising senior linebacker Cale Garrett, All-SEC Coaches’ second team defense, and rising sophomore tight end Daniel Parker, SEC All-Freshman team.

Bryant will learn to work with returning running backs junior Larry Rountree III and sophomore Tyler Badie in the backfield as well as wide receivers sophomores Kam Scott and Dominic Gicinto as well as redshirt senior Johnathon Johnson as downfield targets. Redshirt junior tight end Albert Okwuegbunam is also expected to make his return to the field this fall, after suffering a broken scapula last season against Florida. On defense, the Tigers return cornerback senior DeMarkus Acy, who recorded 25 solo tackles and three interceptions last season.

Emily: Why Missouri will finish third in the East

If the trend of Missouri’s record improving each season under coach Barry Odom continues, the Tigers should be in good standing, especially under the new leadership of quarterback Kelly Bryant. While new Denver Bronco rookie Drew Lock was able to bring MU to a 4-4 conference finish in a season that was determined by a handful of plays, Bryant brings the experience of a national champion with him to Missouri. Along with Bryant, Arkansas transfer Jonathan Nance and returning Tigers Larry Rountree III and Jalen Knox will hold up an offense that has the potential to provide more entertaining matchups against SEC powerhouses this fall. In the end, however, those powerhouses — Georgia and Kentucky in the East, Alabama in the West — will continue to hold their places of dominance in the conference.

Max: Why Missouri will finish second in the East

Missouri’s SEC schedule begins much differently than it did in 2018. Last year, the Tigers began with a home game versus Georgia and road games against South Carolina and Alabama to begin conference play. In 2019, Missouri opens at home against the Gamecocks and Ole Miss before traveling to Vanderbilt and Kentucky. If Missouri were able to go undefeated through those first four games, it would set up a massive conference matchup with Georgia in Athens. Missouri may not be playing for a spot in the conference title due to the ban, but this game would have major implications for the top of the division. Ultimately, Georgia will win this game and win the East. Missouri’s depth at wide receiver and running back supporting Kelly Bryant will make it a difficult offense for SEC teams to slow down.

Wilson: Why Missouri will finish second in the East

It was a small miracle that Missouri was able to finish as high as fifth in the SEC East last season in a year where it left so much on the table. If MU had run the ball on third down in the final minutes of its loss to Kentucky it would have won the game. If DeMarkus Acy had hung onto what would have been a game-sealing pick against South Carolina, the Tigers would have won that too. This past offseason, Kentucky lost Benny Snell Jr. and Josh Allen to the draft. Tennessee and Vanderbilt, two more divisional opponents, won a combined five conference games last year and have recruiting classes ranked seventh and fourteenth in the SEC respectively. Larry Rountree III and Tyler Badie are back to guide the Tigers’ running game, and Kelly Bryant has plenty of weapons at his disposal. Sophomores Jalen Knox and Scott will look to be a bigger part of the offense with Emanuel Hall gone. As for the defense, it can only improve from last year. In 2018, Missouri was in the bottom half of SEC in tackles, sacks and interceptions. It gave up over 35 points five times in 13 games. Any improvement will help create more balance on this offense-heavy team. Georgia’s still the class of the division, but MU has enough pieces to keep moving up.

Edited by Leah Glasser | lglasser@themaneater.com

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