MISSOURI TIGERS Head coach: Gary Pinkel Last season: 12-2 overall, 7-1 in Big 12; won 38-7 over Arkansas in the Cotton Bowl. Spring practice: March 11-April 19.
Missouri was in the national-title picture last season until losing in the Big 12 Championship Game. The Tigers return 14 starters, including star QB Chase Daniel. Most of the attention this spring should focus on finding a starting tailback and rebuilding the offensive line. Here's a look at Mizzou as the Tigers prepare to open spring drills.
Daniel is one of the best quarterbacks in the nation. He was a Heisman finalist in 2007 who has thrown for more than 7,800 yards and 61 touchdown passes in the past two seasons. Maclin is one of the nation's premier big-play threats. But the Tigers also return two other top-notch wide receivers in Saunders and Danario Alexander, who combined for 78 receptions a year ago. The Tigers ranked 25th in the nation against the run last season and return all three starting linebackers, including Weatherspoon – an All-Big 12 pick.
HELP IS NEEDED
Two-time 1,000-yard rusher Tony Temple has gone to the NFL, leaving the tailback spot to either Jimmy Jackson or Derrick Washington. Last season, the two combined for 515 yards. Even though Missouri will boast one of the country's most explosive offenses, the Tigers will punt at times. Jake Harry is the only scholarship punter on campus, so he figures to get the job.
KEEP AN EYE ON
TB Derrick Washington: A former four-star prospect, Washington played sparingly in a reserve role last season. But he could make a big move for the starting job this spring.
LB Luke Lambert: He was so productive in a reserve role as a true freshman (registering 32 tackles) that he will push to get into the starting lineup this season.
CB Trey Hobson: Hobson, a redshirt freshman with good speed, reportedly owns a 43-inch vertical jump. He will challenge Castine Bridges, who made couple of starts in 2007, for a starting job.
HIS TIME IS NOW
Junior WR Jared Perry had a solid freshman year with 37 catches in 2006, but he had just 13 receptions last season. Receiver is a solid position and the signing class included some good prospects, so Perry needs to excel this spring or risk getting lost in the shuffle.
By bolstering positions of need – running back, punter and the offensive line, where replacements for Adam Spieker and Tyler Luellen must be found – Missouri can be optimistic about challenging for a national championship this fall.
Olin Buchanan is the senior college football writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.