Game 1: Miami Hurricanes
Game 3: Kentucky Wildcats
Game 4: Tennessee Volunteers
Game 6: Auburn Tigers
Game 7: LSU Tigers
Game 8: South Carolina Gamecocks
Game 9: Georgia Bulldogs
Game 10: Vanderbilt Commodores
|MISSOURI TIGERS (2018: 8-5, 4-4 SEC)|
|Head Coach||Returning starters||2018 offense||2018 defense|
|Barry Odom||7 offense, 6 defense||482 YPG/36.6 PPG||379 YPG/24.4 PPG|
|4th year (19-19)||80%, 40% of stat production||13th/18th in FBS||53rd/43rd in FBS|
All time series: Missouri 5, Florida 3
Introduction: 2015 and 2016 aside, Missouri has developed an annoying label as Florida’s kryptonite. For whatever reason, the Gators seem to feel entitled to take a nap whenever they share the same field as the Tigers from CoMo. Predictably, the results have been horrendous; Mizzou has won four of the last six matchups with Florida by a combined 98 points (or an average of 24.5 points). Luckily, the Gators haven’t really cost themselves anything of real value with any of those losses. 2013 and 2017 were the Gator football equivalent of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, so neither team was going to accomplish anything with a win over Mizzou anyway, the 2014 loss essentially got Will Muschamp fired, and Florida somehow rebounded from the 2018 debacle to reach- and win- a New Year’s Six Bowl as was the goal from fall camp. Fail to take Missouri seriously enough times, though, and eventually it will come at an appreciable cost. And with a tougher schedule than last year, Florida’s margin for head scratching losses to inferior teams is smaller in 2019, so this would be the optimal time to start taking Missouri seriously.
12,193 passing yards’ worth of production are gone with the graduation of QB Drew Lock, and ordinarily that would be a huge problem for any team, much less Missouri. And while Oklahoma and Ohio State definitely shared the NCAA transfer portal gold medal by adding Jalen Hurts and Justin Fields, respectively, Missouri quietly took the bronze and added former Clemson QB Kelly Bryant. He’s not a Heisman Trophy candidate, and he’s not a great passer, but he’s an effective passer (2,802 passing yards in 2017) and a legitimate threat to beat you with his legs (665 rushing yards in 2017) to boot. There are far worse distinctions a quarterback can earn than losing the starting job to Trevor Lawrence, and if anybody can pick up where Lock left off, it’s him.
Larry Rountree should help him hit the ground running. The rising junior tailback broke out as a sophomore last year (1,216 yards and 11 TD’s) and has surreptitiously become one of the best running backs in the SEC. Behind him, Tyler Badie (437 yards, 2 TD’s in 2018) should step into the RB2 role vacated by Damarea Crockett quite nicely, so depth isn’t an issue for Mizzou. And the offensive line returns three of last year’s five starters, including preseason All-SEC picks Trystan Colon-Castillo and Tre’Vour Wallace-Simms. Between a mass of humanity on its line, two proven tailbacks and a running quarterback, Missouri should have quite the ground game in 2019.
Rounding out the offense is a strong set of pass catchers. Rising sophomores Jalen Knox (27 catches for 419 yards in 2018) and Kam Scott (eight catches for 214 yards) will look to slide into larger roles with the departure of Emanuel Hall, as will tight end Albert Okwuegbunam (43 catches for 466 yards) with the departure of Kendall Blanton. Also back is slot receiver Johnathan Johnson (59 catches for 737 yards), as are five more receivers who have caught at least one pass in their careers. The question is, are they good enough to make plays against the top secondaries in the nation?
Offensive grade: A. Rarely do you see a college football team finish 13th in the nation in total offense, lose its four year starting quarterback, and be poised to not miss a beat the following year, but that’s the case with Missouri. Assuming Bryant makes the transition fairly hiccup-free, this offense is going to be one of the best in college football.
Missouri’s defensive line had trouble generating much pressure on opposing quarterbacks last year, but a stout interior of that defensive line made it difficult for others to run the ball on them. Even with Terry Beckner gone to the NFL, that should again be the case this year, as Texas transfer Jordan Elliott should anchor the middle of that line. The end position is the one that’s worrisome for the Tigers. Akial Byers is good enough against the ground game to be a probable starters, but between Trajan Jeffcoat, ex-LSU Tiger Sci Martin Jr. and Chris Turner, somebody has to emerge as a legitimate pass rusher.
The linebacker corps is led by Cale Garrett, who led the team with 106 tackles last year. But he’s going to need help. The presumptive starters on the outside are Nick Bolton (weak side) and Gerald Nathan (strong side) after strong springs, but Bolton played sparingly in 2018 and Nathan took a redshirt. How well these guys step into starting roles in 2019 will go a long way toward determining the success of this defense- particularly if they can help shut down the run.
The good news for the secondary is that it’s experienced. The bad news is that a lot of that experience is bad experience. Missouri surrendered 279.4 pass yards per game last year, which qualified them for 109th out of 130 FBS teams. Christian Holmes (2 INT, 12 PBU’s) and DeMarkus Acy (3 INT, 10 PBU) are strong corners, but the safeties- presumably Ronnell Perkins and Tyree Gillespie- will have to help them out.
Defensive grade: C+. Garrett is a sparkplug at linebacker, and Holmes and Act are a decent 1-2 cornerback combination. But this unit is littered with question marks, and they’re not likely to be answered overnight.
Key Matchup: Florida’s offensive line vs. Missouri’s front seven. Whatever questions the Gators have on their offensive line should be answered by now. For better or worse, we’ll know what Florida’s got up front. Now: can they block Missouri’s front seven and give Franks time to throw? They should on paper, but then they should have on paper last year and they didn’t. The Gators have had massive problems with physicality in their last two matchups with Missouri, and correcting those problems starts here.
Florida key to victory: Lock down Missouri’s wideouts and set the edge so Bryant can’t take off. OK, so that’s really two keys, but it all boils down to every single member of this Gator defense doing its assignment on every single play. That means no busted coverages, no taking the wrong angle and giving up 30 yard runs on third and 25, and forcing Bryant to beat the Gators with his arm- the weaker of his two tools. The Gators can’t afford to fall asleep defensively against anybody, really, but Bryant is the last quarterback you want them to fall asleep against.
Missouri key to victory: distribute the ball around on offense. Florida’s defense is very good, to be sure, but Missouri has an abundance of playmakers who can do damage at any time. If Bryant can get them all involved, it opens the door for him to do some major damage of his own. Also, Missouri’s offense
Fun fact(s): As we all know, Missouri has been a major thorn in Florida’s side since joining the SEC. But the Tigers’ history of flummoxing the Gators actually dates way back to the era of Dan Devine and Steve Spurrier (the player, not the coach).
Despite finishing third in the SEC standings in 1965, Florida went to the Sugar Bowl to face Missouri (then in the Big 8) while the champions of those conferences, Alabama and Nebraska, met in the Orange Bowl. After a scoreless first quarter, Missouri’s offense suddenly exploded, as the Tigers raced out to a 17-0 halftime lead. Mizzou then added a field goal in the third quarter to build their lead to 20-0.
Undaunted, Steve Spurrier came out in the fourth quarter and tried to lead the Gators back by throwing touchdown passes of 22 and then 21 yards before taking it in himself on Florida’s third touchdown of the quarter. But for some reason, Gator coach Ray Graves elected to eschew the extra point and go for the two point conversion, not just once but twice. After each of the first two failed, Florida was down 20-18 when Spurrier punched it into the end zone in the game’s waning moments. Forced to try again, Missouri stopped Florida one last time to preserve a 20-18 win. However, Spurrier’s near comeback effort was deemed so valiant that he was named Sugar Bowl MVP- even though Florida lost the game.
Florida could be dealing with a lot of firsts when it travels up to Columbia, MO. For one thing, it could be the first time most of the Gator players have ever seen snow, much less played in it (think about it- it’s Missouri on November 16). For another thing, it will be the first time Florida has ever played Missouri in its penultimate game of the season, leaving a lot of room for both teams to evolve or devolve and look totally different than the way they look on paper now. And by that same token, it’s not totally inconceivable to think that a Gator team with a history of overlooking Missouri will overlook them once more with archival FSU coming to town in their next game two weeks later.
But while Dan Mullen definitely hasn’t gotten his team appropriately ready to play every single big game he’s coached them in so far, he’s gotten them appropriately ready for the really big ones, especially the emotionally charged ones. Using all the buildup to the Mississippi State game, the emotions still surrounding the Florida-LSU game from 2016, and the frustration of losing five straight games to FSU, Mullen does already have a decent resume of channeling his team’s high energy regarding an opponent into a win. And now, having lost two straight games to Missouri by a combined half a hundred points, this game will surely be circled on the calendar.
Admittedly, I’m a little worried about Bryant’s legs, and Larry Rountree, but Florida is the better football team, top to bottom, and they should be the favorite to win this one even on the road. Upsets happen, anomalies happen, and overlooking your opponent happens, sometimes twice in a row, but I just don’t think these players will let it happen three times in a row. It may not be pretty, but this Gator team will show its heart in a grind-it-out road win.
Projection: Florida 38, Missouri 21