By: John Saltzman
On Saturday, April 16,, the Missouri Tigers usher in the Barry Odom era as head coach after 15 years of Gary Pinkel behind the clipboard. Pinkel’s final season last year was a down 5-7 campaign and after back-to-back SEC title game appearances, Odom looks to elevate Mizzou back to that level of national prominence.
The spring game will be the first time the Tiger faithful sees the potential new rosters and possibly a glimpse at what’s to come for Mizzou heading in to the fall. Here’s what to watch for Saturday afternoon.
QB Drew Lock
Last season Lock was forced into the starting role as a true freshman upon the Maty Mauk dismissal and it was anything but smooth sledding. Lock completed fewer than 50 percent of his passes last season and had a touchdown to interception ratio of 1:2. Look for Lock’s full offseason as the projected starter along with the valuable experiences he gained last season to pay off massively.
The acquisition of Josh Heupel as offensive coordinator, who previously coached two Heisman-winning quarterbacks as Oklahoma’s quarterbacks coach (Jason White, Sam Bradford), will bring a track record and success rate key for the gun-slinging sophomore. Watch for Lock’s increased command of the team and confidence spinning the ball downfield.
DE/LB Charles Harris
Harris led the team in sacks last year and filled in beautifully for SEC sacks leader Shane Ray who left for the NFL. While Harris was dominant on the edge, terrorizing QB’s, the team is testing his athleticism at outside linebacker so far this offseason.
The speed and quickness Harris possesses should make the transition relatively easy as he looks to continue to lead the Tigers as one of the SEC’s most feared defensive units.
The Return of Harold Brantley
Defensive end Harold Brantley is back on the field for the first time since a life-threatening car crash ended his 2015 season before it even began. In 2014 Brantley was one of the many talented defensive linemen at what is now commonly referred to as “D-Line Zou.”
Brantley finished 2014 with five sacks and really came on strong toward the end of the season. Look for Brantley’s redemption campaign begin tomorrow as he might be one of the Tigers’ best players when it’s all said and done this season.
What to expect this season
Mizzou’s offense last year was poor to say the least. The unit ranked dead last in the SEC in points per game (13.6), yards per game (280.1), yards per play (4.4), and third down percentage (30 percent).
The potential improvement hinges largely on Drew Lock. Alabama WR transfer, Chris Black, will be another player to watch as he could add some much needed depth to a talent-starved group of receivers. But if the offensive line can’t retool successfully and the receiving core doesn’t drastically improve, it could be more of the same this season.
On the other side of the ball, expect Mizzou to fill in for the loss of First Team All SEC linebacker Kentrell Brothers nicely with the aforementioned move of Harris to linebacker. Couple that with returning starters at each level of the defense, mainly Michael Scherer at linebacker, Aarion Penton at cornerback, and Terry Beckner Jr. entering his sophomore season at defensive tackle.
While there isn’t much to be said about the spring game as a whole in terms of team significance, there will be some intriguing storylines and players to watch as they progress through the spring and into the 2016-17 college football season. As fans of Mizzou football pile in to Faurot Field at 5 p.m. CT Saturday, enjoy the start of the Barry Odom era and what’s to come in Columbia.
Photo credit: The Maneater