Missouri Purdue Football

Missouri running back Larry Rountree III (34) runs against Purdue during the second half of a 2018 game in West Lafayette, Ind.

Author’s note: This story is the second in a 12-part series previewing West Virginia University’s 2019 football opponents

Missouri enters the 2019 football season in a odd predicament.

The Tigers are starting to appear in several preseason Top 25 lists and, on paper, appear to have a team that could contend in the mighty Southeastern Conference. Due to sanctions handed down from the NCAA, however, Mizzou, — no matter how good it ends up being this season — is ineligible for the postseason.

That makes it hard to get a feel for the 2019 Tigers. Mizzou has plenty of talented players on both sides of the ball and a proven winner expected to take over at quarterback for four-year starter and Denver Broncos second-round draft pick Drew Lock. But how will the Tigers react with no pot of gold possible at the end of their rainbow?

Each of Missouri’s last two seasons have ended with a loss to a Big 12 opponent — a 2017 Texas Bowl loss to Texas and a 2018 Liberty Bowl loss to Oklahoma State. Last season the Tigers went went 8-5 and finished 4-4 in SEC play — good enough for fifth place in the SEC East behind Georgia, Kentucky, Florida and South Carolina.

Barry Odom is entering his fourth season as the head coach at Mizzou sporting a 19-19 overall record in that time. His first game with the Tigers was also the last time they faced West Virginia — a 26-11 win for the Mountaineers on Sept. 3, 2016 in Morgantown. This season’s game between WVU and Mizzou completes their home and home series with the Tigers getting the home game in Columbia this time around. Let’s take a look at what to expect from the Tigers’ roster in 2019.

OFFENSE

n Quarterback: As previously mentioned, four-year starter Drew Lock plays for the Denver Broncos now, so Mizzou turns to Clemson transfer Kelly Bryant. The former starter for the current national champions, Bryant made an awkward exit from Clemson after losing his starting job to freshman phenom Trevor Lawrence, but he was certainly successful with the ACC’s Tigers. Bryant was tabbed as the man to replace Clemson legend Deshaun Watson and helped lead the Tigers to the College Football Playoffs in his first year as a starter. The relationship soured when Lawrence won the job last season, and Clemson’s loss appears to be Missouri’s gain.

n Running backs: Current junior Larry Rountree was among the best ball carriers in the SEC toward the end of the 2018 seasons and figures to be a major players for Mizzou again this season. Rountree ran for 1,216 yards as a sophomore and is complemented by third-down specialist Tyler Badie.

n Receivers: Sophomores Jalen Knox and Kam Scott saw a lot of the field as freshmen, thanks in large part to injuries ahead of them on the depth chart, with the duo combining for 35 receptions, 633 yards and five touchdowns. Tight end Albert Okwuegbunam was hampered by injury last season but also returns for 2019, as does senior slot man Johnathon Johnson. Throw in graduate transfer Johnathan Nance, Arkansas’ leading receiver in 2017, and the Tigers have plenty of solid options when it comes to catching passes from Bryant.

n Offensive line: The Tigers lose right tackle Paul Adams, but should have plenty of experience in the trenches to help get the run game going. All-SEC guard Tre’Vour Wallace-Simms leads a group that brings three starters back from 2018. If those experienced players are up to task, Mizzou and offensive coordinator Derek Dooley — the former head coach at Tennessee — could have one of the best rushing attacks in the SEC.

DEFENSE

n Defensive line: The Tigers’ defensive front was good in 2018, but not what it had been in previous seasons. Missouri allowed 126.7 rushing yards per game and 3.7 yards per carry, but there was no star pass rusher like Tiger fans were used to seeing. That could change this season with defensive end Akial Byers poised for a breakout. Texas transfer Jordan Elliott should also cause problems for opponents from the nose tackle position.

n Linebackers: There are some question marks here for Mizzou, but one thing not in question is the middle linebacker spot occupied by Cale Garrett, who has amassed 264 total tackles during his Tiger career.

n Defensive backs: Missouri’s secondary was young for a long time, but those players have grown up and now the Tigers own one of the most experienced sets of defensive backs in the country. Mizzou cornerebacks Christian Holmes, Adam Sparks and DeMarkus Acy are all back for 2019 and the Tigers can throw experienced, veteran safeties at teams all day. This group got picked on at times in 2018, but that will happen when the pass rush isn’t getting the job done up front. Expect this group to be much better in 2019.

SPECIAL TEAMS

Mizzou loses four-year starter Corey Fatony at punter, with placekicker Tucker McCann expected to handle both kicking and punting duties for the Tigers in 2019.

Contact Tom Bragg at tom.bragg@wvgazettemail.com or 304-348-4871. Follow him on Twitter @TomBraggSports. Read Tom’s WVU sports blog at http://blogs.wvgazettemail.com/wvu/