OVERVIEW: The leading receiver, top rusher and four starters from an effective line return for the Tigers, but they will have a new quarterback. Dual-threat James Franklin takes over for Blaine Gabbert, who left early for the NFL and was a first-round pick. Franklin faces a tough task in trying to reach the passing standards set by his predecessor.
AN INSIDE LOOK
THE LINGERING QUESTION: Can the passing game remain productive behind James Franklin, who threw for just 106 yards in 2010? In each of the past five seasons Missouri's starting quarterback has passed for more than 3,000 yards. Not coincidentally, Missouri has posted at least eight victories in each of those seasons. Will the passing game suffer with a new quarterback?
BEST CASE SCENARIO: Franklin continues Missouri's run of exceptional quarterback play and his running and passing evokes memories of Brad Smith. Meanwhile, DT Dominique Hamilton and LB Luke Lambert are 100 percent healthy and the defense is just as tight as it was last season. The Tigers duplicate last season's wins over Oklahoma and Texas A&M and go on to capture the first conference championship since 1969.
WORST CASE SCENARIO: Franklin has issues as a first-time starting quarterback and as a result the passing game struggles. Missouri doesn't have a overpowering running game, either, so the offense becomes stagnant and the defense remains soft against the run. The Tigers aren't strong enough to legitimately challenge Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Texas A&M, struggle against other teams and face a tough fight just to gain bowl eligibility.
STATS TO KEEP AN EYE ON: Although Missouri's defense didn't allow a lot of points in 2010, the Tigers had problems stopping the run in the second half of the season. The Tigers allowed an average of 198.5 rushing yards per game after Hamilton was lost for the year in the Oklahoma game. That's a major red flag, especially with Hamilton and LBs Lambert and Will Ebner coming back from injuries.
BACKFIELD: During the spring, Franklin won the quarterback competition over Tyler Gabbert (Blaine's brother), who then opted to transfer. Franklin, who has a good arm and great running ability, figures to bring another dimension to the pass-oriented system. The Tigers can use a mobile quarterback to enhance their running game. Leading rusher De'Vion Moore rushed for just 517 yards a year ago, and it wouldn't be a surprise if he lost his starting job. Henry Josey and Kendial Lawrence also will challenge for carries.
RECEIVERS: Mizzou always seems to have a productive tight end and this season is no different. All-American Michael Egnew had more catches (90) in 2010 than anyone else in the country at his position. Junior T.J. Moe is a sure-handed receiver who is capable of big plays. Senior Jerrell Jackson is coming off a 50-catch season, but still hasn't become the major threat some thought he could be. The Tigers still need a deep threat to stretch defenses, and speedy sophomore Marcus Lucas could develop into that guy.
LINE: Elvis Fisher and Dan Hoch are as good a set of tackles as there is in the Big 12. Both should contend for all-conference honors. They head a list of four returning starters off a line that allowed just 22 sacks despite Missouri attempting 512 pass plays - an average of one sack on every 23.3 attempts. The loss was a big one - all-conference C Tim Barnes, a three-year starter. Junior Travis Ruth will try to fill that void.
OVERVIEW: On the surface, Missouri would seem to have issues. E Aldon Smith left early for the NFL draft and was a first-round selection. T Dominique Hamilton is coming back from a broken ankle that forced him to miss half of last season. And three starters must be replaced in the secondary. Yet the feeling in Columbia is that the defense could be at least as good as the 2010 unit, which ranked sixth in the nation in scoring defense.
LINE: Smith's decision to go pro was disappointing, but not devastating. Senior E Jacquies Smith has all-conference ability after posting 10 tackles for loss and 5.5 sacks as a junior. In addition, junior Brad Madison posted 7.5 sacks, primarily in a backup role, last season. He got even better this spring and looks like an emerging star. The Tigers also feel they have excellent depth on the edges. The interior isn't as well-stocked, but it's OK. Terrell Resonno is a solid starter at tackle and Hamilton is an effective run-stuffer when healthy. Missouri's run defense suffered greatly after his injury.
LINEBACKERS: Luke Lambert and Will Ebner have been starters in the middle, but each has had injury issues. If they're healthy, they will compete or share time there. Lambert was a captain in 2010, but hamstring problems limited him to three games. Junior Zaviar Gooden is a ... well, good one on the weakside. He has good speed and range and parlayed those assets into 85 tackles in 2010. Expect him to challenge for postseason honors. The strongside starter may not be set until the opening week of the season. Sophomores Donovan Bonner (coming off a dislocated elbow) and Andrew Wilson and redshirt freshman Darvin Ruise are vying for that job.
SECONDARY: Even though both starting cornerbacks have departed, the Tigers actually may be better at that position. Kip Edwards and E.J. Gaines are more athletic than their predecessors and have had extensive playing time. Edwards has seen plenty of action in nickel packages, while Gaines, a sophomore, earned a letter last season and had a strong showing in the spring. The only returning starter is hard-hitting senior SS Kenji Jackson. He'll be joined by either sophomore Tavon Bolden or junior Kenronte Walker, another hard hitter who redshirted last season after transferring in from City College of San Francisco.
K Grant Ressel is one of the best in the nation and should contend for the Groza Award. Ressel is deadly accurate and has 50-yard range. He has converted 43-of-46 attempts over the past two seasons. One of his two misses in 2010 was from 54 yards. P Trey Barrow only had two attempts in a backup role a year ago, but averaged 45 yards. Marcus Murphy is solid on kickoff returns and Moe is expected to field punts. The Tigers' coverage teams typically are sound, though the kickoff coverage was spotty last season.
THE RECRUITING SIDE
Average national ranking past five years: 33rd
Buzz: The state of Missouri has one of its deepest classes ever in 2012. Four Rivals250 prospects, including the nation's No. 1 overall player in WR Dori al Green-Beckham, hail from the state. The Tigers were in the running for all four but saw WR Durron Neal commit to Oklahoma a few weeks ago. Missouri struck back by beating the Sooners for the services of G Evan Boehm. If the Tigers can land Green-Beckham or DT Ondre Pipkins, they will be on their way to a solid class anchored by in-state stars instead of relying on the state of Texas. - BRIAN PERRONI
Redshirt freshman DE Kony Ealy probably won't be in the starting lineup because the Tigers are set at the position with Jacquies Smith and Madison. But Ealy still will get plenty of action. He's a strong pass rusher who is already drawing comparisons to recent star Aldon Smith.
For Missouri to have a big season, it will have to win big on the road. The Tigers take September trips to Arizona State and Oklahoma. They also face another Big 12 contender - Texas A&M - on the road. On the plus side, they get Oklahoma State, Texas and Texas Tech in Columbia. Perhaps the greatest danger of a trap game is Nov. 5 against Baylor. The Tigers go to Waco after consecutive games against Oklahoma State and A&M and a week before playing host to Texas.
Last season, the Tigers defeated Oklahoma and Texas A&M, considered the leading contenders for the Big 12 championship. But Mizzou beat those teams with Blaine Gabbert at quarterback. If Franklin proves an effective and efficient quarterback the Tigers cannot be overlooked in the conference championship race because the Tigers are sound and experienced just about everywhere else. But that's a lot to prove for a player who has had minimal playing time.
For more on Missouri now and throughout the season, check out PowerMizzou.com