By: Eric Kelly, KCOU Sports
If I would’ve given you a choice back in 2012 of which Tiger sport would’ve better adapted to life in the vaunted SEC, basketball or football, the choice would have been pretty clear. The basketball team was one year removed from one of the best (regular) seasons in school history, and was entering a pretty wide open basketball conference (before the platoons of course). Meanwhile, the football team had pretty decent success, but the Tigers were entering conference that provided a murderer’s row when it came to a schedule.
Instead, though it’s been football that has blossomed in the new conference. Two straight 10-win seasons and two straight appearances in the SEC Championship for a team that was told it could never compete in its new home.
So, coming into 2015, the optimism is pretty high amongst fans. The last time they saw their beloved Tigers grace the field, they left with a convincing victory over Minnesota in the Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus Bowl. Yet, this optimism should be for not, because there’s no way this team makes a third straight trip to the SEC Championship in Atlanta.
First of all, I just want to make this clear, it won’t be about the defense, it is fine. The defensive line is going to great again with future stars like Harold Brantley, Josh Augusta, Marcus Loud and Charles Harris. Even the linebacking core has gotten better with Michael Scherer coming back and assuming the position of heart of the defense. In the secondary, it’s a relatively experienced group, with Kenya Dennis and Aarion Penton locking down receivers and guys like Ian Simon patrolling deep safety area.
Instead, when you think about what will be the reason the Tigers won’t be making it back to A-Town, it’s immediately clear it’s going to be the offense. In particular, it’s going to be junior quarterback Maty Mauk. It’s a similar situation for Mauk as last year, he’s entering the season without his top three receivers from last season, as Bud Sasser, Jimmy Hunt and Darius White are all gone. So, you may think to yourself, why can’t he just do what he did last year with a crop of new receivers?
Well, it’s because this group had no experience, and those with experience are not even in the same realm as those guys last year. Last season, when you looked at Bud Sasser, there was hope, because he had the measurables and the potential. There’s certainly that this next season, with players like J’Mon Moore and Nate Brown, but they’re both still a year away from becoming reliable playmakers. Meanwhile, the leading returning receiver is Sr. Wesley Leftwich, and if that’s who the team will rely on to make plays, it may be a long season.
Plus, when you look back at Mauk for a minute, his main issue last season was scrambling and not staying in the pocket. Well guess what, from what I’ve seen in spring football camp, he hasn’t made many strides forward in that category, and now he doesn’t have Sasser and Hunt (both NFL receivers) to bail him out.
Finally, you look the Tigers’ schedule, and there are a few games where the offense is going to need to show up big time, and I just don’t see this group doing it. The contests I immediately look at are the last three of the season, vs. BYU in Kansas City (11/14), vs. Tennessee (11/21) and at Arkansas (11/28). If Mizzou can win at least two of these games (especially those two in the SEC), then maybe the Tigers offense will prove me wrong. As of now though, I just don’t see Mauk and Co. being able to pull the offense along enough to make another appearance in the Georgia Dome come December.