We are four weeks from the opening of Barry Odom’s fourth season at Mizzou, and by all accounts this edition of the Tigers should be his best. In his three years, Odom’s teams have gone 4-8, 7-5 and then 8-4, with bowl games in 2017 and 2018. Those teams were all led by quarterback Drew Lock, who is now in the NFL. So, for the first time Odom will have a new quarterback…former Clemson signal caller Kelly Bryant.
Lock was joined by other departing seniors; wide receiver Emanuel Hall and offensive linemen Paul Adams and Kevin Pendleton. Graduate transfer Johnathan Nance steps in at wide receiver, while sophomore Hyrin White will start at right tackle and fellow sophomore Larry Boram will replace Pendleton at left guard.
Missouri isn’t divulging how the offense will look this year, but it seems pretty clear that it won’t look like last year. Senior right guard Tre’Vour Wallace-Sims, an East St. Louis product, says “I’m not saying too much. The fans can see on August 31st (at Wyoming). We don’t want to spoil anything or give any other coaches a game plan.” But this we do know. Lock ran the ball 55 times for 175 yards last year. In the full season Bryant played at Clemson, he ran it 192 times for 665 yards and eleven touchdowns. While Bryant is an accurate thrower (66.2% in his career at Clemson) and has good receivers at Mizzou, it would make sense for offensive coordinator Derek Dooley and the Tigers to utilize Bryant’s strengths in running the ball.
Elsewhere on offense, Mizzou returns three starters on the offensive line, brings back running backs Larry Roundtree and Tyler Badie, has terrific wide receiver depth, and one of the top tight ends in the country in Albert Okwuegbunam.
Defensively, Mizzou returns six starters, needing to replace defensive tackles Terry Beckner and Walter Palmore, linebackers Terez Hall and Brandon Lee, and safety Cam Hilton. Experienced tackles Jordan Elliott and Kobie Whiteside will take over at DT, while Nick Bolton will slide in at linebacker. At the moment, Mizzou plans to play five defensive backs with all the spread offenses they’ll see.
For the first time in his four years, Odom has stability on his staff. In his first year, Odom demoted defensive coordinator DeMontie Cross during the season. Cross came back in year two, but was eventually fired during that campaign. After the second year, offensive coordinator Josh Heupel left to become the head coach at Central Florida, and took offensive line coach Glen Ellarbee with him. Now for the first time, Odom has both coordinators, Heupel and defensive coordinator Ryan Walters, on the same page with him and in place for a second year in a row. “It (stability) is huge,” Odom says, “because as the head coach I rely so much on our organization. We talk about the culture of who we are. It’s not just the staff room. It’s who we’ve got in the locker room, the people that we’ve recruited. But absolutely everybody that touches our players, we’re servers. Our job is to make sure that we provide our student athletes an opportunity to be successful.”
To boil it down, a quarterback that played in a National Championship game with Clemson is joining a talented and experienced group of players and an established coaching staff. If ever there was an opportunity for Mizzou to return to greatness, this would seem to be it.
With improving records in each of their last two seasons, a talent base that fills the holes of departing starters, an opening of the recruiting spigot in St. Louis, and spectacular upgrades to their stadium, Odom sees his program ascending to the level he envisioned when he took over for Gary Pinkel. “We’re making great progress,” Odom told me after practice on Sunday. “It takes everybody being on the bus. You talk about the vision and the alignment, from administration on campus to Jim Sterk running the athletic department.” For this year, Odom likes what he sees. “I want to make sure that I do my job to make sure that this team is as good as it can be. I don’t talk about wins or losses. I talk about us being our best. And if we’re our best, we’re right where we need to be.”
According to ESPN’s FPI (Football Power Index), Mizzou is favored to win it’s first eight games, five of which are at home. Game nine is at Georgia, and after a bye. The Bulldogs will be coming off their annual rivalry game against Georgia. It’s a long way to go until then, but this season could be really interesting for Odom and Mizzou.