Star Power: Brad Smith (quarterback, junior, 6’3 201), Damien Nash (running back, junior, 5’11 215), C.J. Mosley (defensive tackle, junior, 6’3 305), Atiyyah Ellison (defensive tackle, senior, 6’4 305), James Kinney (middle linebacker, senior, 6'1 240).
Notable Additions: Chase Patton (quarterback, Rockbridge High School, 6’4 210), Van Alexander (linebacker, Rockbridge High School, 6'-1, 220), Tony Temple (running back, Rockhurst High School, 5’10 190), William Franklin (wide receiver, Vashon High School, 6’2 185), George Lane (defensive tackle, junior, College of the Siskiyous, 6’3 275).
Notable Subtractions: Zach Abron, running back; A.J. Ricker, center; Rob Droege, offensive tackle; Michael Harden, cornerback, Sonny Riccio, quarterback (transferred to Delaware), Orlando Gooden, linebacker (transferred to Indiana State).
Offensive Overview: For the past two seasons, Missouri's offense has gone as quarterback Brad Smith has gone. Smith is being mentioned prominently as a Heisman Trophy candidate in 2004, and why not? As a freshman, he became only the second player in NCAA Division One history to pass for 2,000 yards and rush for another 1,000 yards. He was only a few yards shy in the passing department last season from doing it two years in a row. Missouri's focus during the spring was to improve the passing game, where the Tigers struggled in several games last year. The Tigers must also replace Zach Abron, who became the school's all-time leading rusher last season, not based on long break-away runs, but rather solid, consistent performance for four full years. Abron's power and reliability will be replaced by Damien Nash's speed and slashing ability. Nash, no small back himself, was one of the most heralded running backs from the state of Missouri coming out of high school. He will share carries with electric redshirt freshman, Marcus Woods from Detroit. Woods has drawn comparisons to Barry Sanders and Kansas State's Darren Sproles in his size and running style. Missouri's offense will go only as far as its new offensive line will take it, however. Gone are stalwarts, A.J. Ricker and Rob Droege. Enter redshirt freshmen Adam Spieker at center and Tyler Luellen at offensive tackle. The receivers were a question mark for the Tigers last year. Mizzou returns three starters from last year, but this group will be pushed by a talented group of redshirt freshmen and true freshmen.
|2004 FOOTBALL SCHEDULE|
Defensive Overview: Since Gary Pinkel arrived four years ago, Mizzou's defense has taken consistent steps forward toward consistency. However, Mizzou struggled when they faced solid rushing teams during 2003 such as Kansas State and Oklahoma. The Tigers adjusted by installing a 4-3 defense and adding another linebacker to the mix. Missouri's front four should be its strong suit on this side of the ball. Zach Ville and Xzavie Jackson will be the Tigers' starters at defensive end, while Atiyyah Ellison and C.J. Mosley will anchor the middle of the line. This unit will compare favorably to the top defensive lines in the conference. Mizzou's linebacking corps will consist of senior James Kinney and Dedrick Harrington on the inside, and converted tailback, David Richard at the outside backer position. Harrington and Richard bring size and speed to the table, but they are short on experience at this point. The secondary is set at safety with Nino Williams II and Jason Simpson. Their cornerbacks will likely be Shirdonya Mitchell and A.J. Kincaid, but this will be a key battle ground during fall camp.
Special Teams Overview: The Tigers did a credible job on punt and kickoff coverage during 2003. They also had solid return men who handled the ball cleanly and gained positive yardage. However, going into 2004, the special teams are among Pinkel's greatest concerns. Senior Brock Harvey should be fully healed from off-season ankle surgery, and it hoped that he'll return to his 2002 form this season. The placekicking spot vacated by Mike Matheny will likely fall to Alex Pettersen, who struggled to win the job against walk-on competition in the spring.
Mizzou will win eight games if... Brad Smith stays healthy, the offensive line grows up quickly, and the punting and kicking games are at least respectable. The defense should be improved and there appears to be sufficient depth there to avoid any significant drop off if injuries occur there. Mizzou's schedule appears to be favorable for an eight-, nine-, or ten-win season if the Tigers take care of business against the teams they should beat and improve their road performance.