With the arrival of Dorial Green-Beckham on the campus of the University of Missouri, excitement is ramping up in advance of the Tigers' first season in the SEC. As the move to the SEC gets more real for Tiger fans, it's becoming more obvious that Missouri is going to field a team that is ready to compete right away in the SEC. A main reason for that is the exciting and productive offense that the Tigers figure to have for their first SEC game, at home against Georgia on September 8.
First, the returning pieces:
Quarterback James Franklin is recovering shoulder surgery, but he is ahead of schedule at this point and should be fully healthy by the start of the SEC schedule. The junior quarterback now has a season of starting under his belt and could take a giant step forward as many quarterbacks do in their junior seasons (see: Chase Daniel). Even if he doesn't take a step forward, his performance last year would be quite satisfactory for a quarterback in the SEC. Franklin finished his sophomore season with nearly 3,000 yards passing, nearly 1,000 yards rushing and 36 total touchdowns compared to 11 interceptions. Can you imagine what he'll produce if he improves even a little bit? Wow.
While the Tigers lost 3 significant pieces of their offensive line from 2011, there is still a lot of experience coming back because of the way coach Gary Pinkel rotated players last season. The offensive line returns 4 members who have at least 7 career starts (Elvis Fisher, Justin Britt, Jack Meiners and Travis Ruth) and will most likely feature one other highly rated lineman, Mitch Morse. There could be some growing pains as a unit here, but it still has enough experience and has a obvious leader in Fisher, so expect this crew to be a strength.
The running back position took a big hit with the loss of all-conference player Henry Josey late in the 2011 season, but the position still has some good talent. Senior Kendial Lawrence leads the crowded backfield after averaging nearly 5 yards per carry as Josey's primary backup. Lawrence seemed to be finally figuring out how to run behind the Missouri offensive line toward the end of last season, so we could see a breakout senior season from the speedster back. He'll also figure to get help from Marcus Murphy (returning from injury) and Jared Culver, but past that there is not much proven talent.
The Tigers took the biggest hit from graduation at the wide receiver position, but this unit also has the most potential of any group on this team. Wes Kemp and Jerrell Jackson both depart, leaving T.J. Moe as the clear #1 option for Franklin, but a wealth of players including Marcus Lucas, L'Damian Washington, Jimmie Hunt, Eric Waters, Rolandis Woodland and Ghan McGaffie have a chance to step up and be the best secondary targets for Franklin.
As you can see, there isn't too much proven talent on this offense, but with a couple of key recruits coming in at skill positions on offense, Missouri fans will have some exciting new faces to cheer for. This list obviously begins with super-recurit, Dorial Green-Beckham. The #1 recruit in the nation committed to the Tigers on signing day in February and has a very good chance to make a Danario Alexander type impact on this offense right away. His size and talent are quite impressive and there is no doubt that he will be able to keep up in the super-athletic Southeastern Conference. It's really just a matter of how comfortable he gets with James Franklin before the season starts.
Tight end Sean Culkin could also make an immediate impact, seeing as how Eric Waters is the only semi-experienced player at that position on the depth chart right now. There are also two running backs coming in (Morgan Steward and Russel Hansbrough), but the depth chart is so uncertain at this point, no one knows what, if any impact they will have on the 2012 season. This offense isn't full of blue chip prospects or proven commodities, but the potential of the unit as a whole is undeniable, especially with James Franklin leading the charge. Don't be surprised to see the Tigers at the top of most of the offensive categories in the SEC next season.