As Missouri head coach Barry Odom address members of the SEC media last Monday in Birmingham, there seemed to be a quiet confidence about him. He spoke openly about the importance of landing grad-transfer QB Kelly Bryant and praised his senior class for sticking with Mizzou despite transfer eligibility due to NCAA sanctions.
For Odom, it’s been a long, almost painstakingly slow process to vault Mizzou back to national prominence. His 2017 team started 1-5 before winning out and finishing 7-5 and 2018 saw another resilient squad go undefeated in November.
It was clear the loss of record-setting quarterback Drew Lock would put Missouri at in impasse heading in to 2019, yet that was rectified by the signing of Kelly Bryant, the most high profile stop-gap in America.
“The thing I’m most excited about is the leadership and culture within our football team.” Odom said on July 15th at SEC Media Days. “(Kelly Bryant) has the skill set to be able to play after this year.”
NCAA Sanctions Looming
A significant dark cloud hanging over the 2019 season currently is an NCAA sanctioned postseason ban that would render Missouri ineligible to play in the SEC Championship or a bowl game. That sanction is currently under appeal by the school and could be lifted in time for the season to begin.
Should Missouri be allowed to participate in postseason play in 2019, they have to be considered a major factor in the SEC East. The media voted Missouri third in the division behind Georgia and Florida, however, the very real possibility exists that the Tigers could win it outright.
5 Reasons Missouri Could Win the SEC East
After a week 1 encounter with Wyoming, Missouri won’t leave the state again until October 19th. The Tigers play host to key divisional opponents South Carolina, Florida and Tennessee and will play the “Battle Line” rivalry game against Arkansas in Little Rock as opposed to Fayetteville. Road games against Vanderbilt and Kentucky look less-than-daunting, however, a November 9th meeting with Georgia could be huge.
2. Kelly Bryant
Bryant, a grad-transfer from Clemson, was a huge get for Barry Odom. The Tigers needed a quarterback to fill the void left by Drew Lock and they landed a dynamic and high profile talent to run the offense in 2019. In 2017 at Clemson, Bryant threw for nearly 3,000 yards and rushed for over 600 more in route to the College Football Playoff. That combination of experience and skill is just what the doctor ordered for Mizzou.
3. The running game.
Not only will the offense boast a myriad of capable pass-catchers (most importantly being preseason All-SEC tight end Albert Okwuegbunam) but a devastating stable of running backs as well. Larry Rountree led the team in rushing a season ago with 1,216 yards and returns as a junior. Sophomore Tyler Badie showed major flashes late in the year with over 400 yards from his third-string position and there are others like Simi Bakare and Dawson Downing waiting in the wings as well.
4. Defensive improvement.
After a rough start to 2018, the Tiger defense pulled it together late and rose to a 50th ranking nationally. Certainly not elite by any means, but the arrow could be trending up. Everyone is excited about the veteran secondary led by DeMarkus Acy and Christian Holmes, but Missouri should be stout up front should defensive tackle Jordan Elliott live up to the billing. Senior LB Cale Garrett, (a preseason 2nd team All-SEC defender) is as solid as it comes in the middle.
5. Coaching, the X-Factor
Odom has proven himself to be a tremendous leader and talent evaluator at Mizzou. The program was built by Gary Pinkel much in this same mold and Odom is trying to take those principals and take it to the next level. Second-year offensive coordinator Derek Dooley was a pleasant surprise in 2018 and helped craft a balance offense that finished ranked 18th nationally.
The recruiting has picked up too, with a large focus being placed in the St. Louis area and players around the country are taking notice. Kelly Brant helped add much needed sizzle and a shiny new south end zone project will be a aesthetically pleasing addition. There is real momentum surrounding the program and Odom must take advantage of it with a special season in 2019.