Coming off an impressive 12-win season and a top ten finish, expectations are high in Columbia, MO. With 14 starters returning, including Heisman Trophy finalist Chase Daniel, Missouri is widely considered a dark horse national title contender. Those predictions might be a tad optimistic though because the Tigers were blown off the field in their two “measuring stick” games against Oklahoma last year, and Gary Pinkel has yet to prove he has what it takes to win the big game.

That could all change this season thanks to senior quarterback Chase Daniel. Daniel is the kind of player that can will his team to victories with his quick decision making and fiery presence in the huddle. He is one of the best leaders in the nation and, after throwing for 4,306 yards and 33 tds, is a favorite for the Bo Jackson Award.

Daniel will once again have the services of Jeremy Maclin to help him out. Maclin was arguably the most impressive freshman in the nation in 2007. With his elite speed he excelled not only as a receiver (80 receptions for 1,055 yards, 9 tds), but as a threat on reverses (375 rushing yards, 4 tds) and kick and punt returns (1,346 return yards, 3 tds) as well. All in all the freshman compiled 16 touchdowns and is clearly an All America talent the Tigers can count on for the next couple seasons before he moves on to the NFL.

Joining Maclin in the receiving corps are Danario Alexander and Tommy Saunders. The underrated Alexander is a big target at 6-foot-5 with good speed who might have a big season with defenses keying on Maclin.

Chase Coffman is one of the better tight ends in the nation. Despite sharing the position with mohawked NFL Draft pick Martin Rucker a year ago, he still managed to grab 52 passes and score 7 touchdowns. With Rucker (84 receptions for 834 yards, 8 tds) gone though, there is a void if Pinkel wants to continue using two-TE sets.

Another small concern is the offensive line. Three starters return, but the two who moved on, left tackle Tyler Luellen and center Adam Speiker, were the best players on the line. Losing 1,000 yard rusher Tony Temple seems troubling as well, but with Missouri’s sideways running game it’s not really important who the running back is as long as they have decent speed.

The Mizzou defense has steadily been improving the last several years. Last season all that hard work came to fruition. The Tigers surprised everybody with their athleticism and depth as they proved to be able to come up with stops in crucial situations – something they had struggled with in the past. In fact, Missouri held Nebraska and Texas Tech, two of the Big XII’s most explosive offenses, to a combined 16 points. Eight starters are back - a number that includes most of the key components from last year’s unit. That means the Tigers will continue to be stout on the defensive side of the ball.

The defense will once again feature a disruptive front four, an aggressive group of linebackers, and the opportunistic William Moore at free safety. Moore was a revelation in ’07. With great size (6-foot-1, 230 lbs) and even better hands and speed he was able to make plays all over the field (117 tackles, 8 interceptions, 9 tackles for loss). Moore is no doubt an All American and a Deion Award candidtate.

Sean Weatherspoon headlines an athletic linebacking corps that will be among the best in the conference. Up front, tackle Ziggy Hood and end Stryker Sulak keep opposing offensive linemen on their toes. Losing Lorenzo Williams hurts though. Williams was one of the best defensive tackles in the conference and Missouri likes to rotate D-Linemen to keep everybody fresh. Finding another player to fill his spot in the rotation without too much of a drop-off will be a challenge.

Gary Pinkel and the coaching staff. The roster is loaded and expectations are high, so it’s up to the coaches to step up their games. In particular, Pinkel and offensive coordinator Dave Christensen must work on in-game offensive adjustments and stop calling the same four plays over and over again. Their approach got them in trouble in the two losses to Oklahoma despite elite talents like Daniel and Maclin, and will continue to burden the team if no improvement is shown.

Danario Alexander. On a veteran team, the junior wide receiver has the most potential for improvement.

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