As we countdown to kickoff in September, we’re going to be doing a team-by-team preview each Wednesday over the summer. This week, we preview Syracuse’s matchup against Missouri on Nov. 17 in Columbia, Mo.
In preparation for the game, we spoke with Brian Haenchen from HanksSportsBlog.com to get a scouting report on Missouri.
The Juice Online: Tell us about HanksSportsBlog.com.
Brian Haenchen: From game recaps to breaking news and analysis, Hank’s Sports Blog is your source for up-to-the-date information on the Saint Louis Rams, Cardinals, and Blues, as well as the Saint Louis University Billikens and the Missouri Tigers. We even touch on the NBA and current (non-sports) goings-on with our newest columnists: DJ Gelner and Eric Rees.
In addition to our written coverage, our lineup of podcasts (The Postgame Tailgate, Full Court Press and Talkin’ Pucks) feature some of the biggest names from college football, college basketball, and the NHL. St. Louis Post Dispatch writer Vahe Gregorian and True Hockey’s Andy Strickland are both regularly featured guests on our radio shows and add a new element to our coverage.
TJO: What are the expectations of the Missouri team?
BH: Since about 2005, Missouri fans have expected the Tigers to: 1. Qualify for a postseason bowl; and 2. At least contend for the division title. Despite the move from the Big 12 to the SEC, those expectations have not changed for 2012.
While size will be an issue for Missouri on both sides of the ball, their offense has the weapons to finish the year in the upper echelon of the conference. Dual-threat quarterback James Franklin, tailback Kendial Lawrence and wideouts TJ Moe and Dorial Green-Beckham lead coach Gary Pinkel’s latest variation of the spread offense, which is much more run-friendly than its predecessor. A lack of experienced depth at quarterback and tight end could be an issue for the Tigers as they go up against the more physical SEC defenses, but if they maintain a balanced attack on the ground and through the air, that should alleviate some of the pressure on Franklin and Co.
It is hard to get a gauge on the Tigers’ defense. While on paper their numbers were nothing spectacular, Mizzou held its own against the pass-happy offenses from the Big 12. On the flip side, the Tigers struggled to defend the run, allowing opposing tailbacks to gash them for large chunks of yards at a time. That will have to change as Mizzou transitions to the SEC.
Speaking of that transition to the SEC, I got the feeling from SEC Media Days that the other teams from around the conference are not taking Missouri seriously. There was a lot of talk about the Tigers being something of an unknown quantity, but at the heart of the commentary was basically a lack of respect for Mizzou. Fortunately, the Tigers will have a chance to legitimize themselves in the conference in week two against Georgia. A win against UGA in their first conference game would give the Tigers a nice boost of confidence moving forward and would further energize the already ecstatic fan base (I’ve never seen folks around St. Louis this fired up for Mizzou football).
As for contending for a division title… admittedly, that’s a pretty lofty expectation for year one. That being said, if Mizzou can knock of Georgia and take one of two on the road against South Carolina or Florida, they could be right in the thick of things heading into Nov. 17 against Syracuse. Just to be clear, I’m not expecting Mizzou to actually compete for a division title right off the bat, but it is not out of the realm of possibility.
TJO: Who should we be watching out for?
BH: One guy is James Franklin. Mizzou will live and die with No. 4. The dual-threat quarterback is the centerpiece of Pinkel’s revamped offense and he’s the only QB on the roster with any in-game experience. It will be important for Franklin to avoid the turnovers that seemed to come in bunches last season. I don’t foresee composure being an issue for the junior quarterback, who gained valuable experience playing road games against Arizona State, Oklahoma and Texas A&M in 2011.
Another guy is EJ Gaines. He garnered All-Big 12 honors last season after compiling 69 tackles and a pair of interceptions. He covered some of the best wideouts in the Big 12 last season and is one of the few Tiger defenders who managed to stay healthy during the off-season.
TJO: What are your predictions for the game?
BH: Despite their significant advantage on offense, I could easily see the Tigers losing this game to Syracuse. It’s their 11th game of the season and comes after road games against Florida and Tennessee. Needless to say, Missouri could be severely banged up and playing a bit short-handed. That being said, Syracuse’s defense isn’t exactly SEC-caliber and Missouri’s offense is good enough to overcome any defensive shortcomings they may be dealing with. Mizzou by 14.