By: Hunter Schmidt
Thanks to those of you that are reading the “Teams to Play, Teams to Fade” series that we are doing here at Edge Sports Network. This week we have two teams that are going to play each other the weekend following Labor Day. Another bit of good news, we only have three weekends left without college football.
TEAMS TO PLAY
Previously: Utah, Virginia
– Missouri Tigers: The Tigers won four games under Barry Odom in 2016. They started 1-5 in 2017 before winning six straight games to end the regular season. The 2018 season saw Missouri finish 8-4 with a loss in the Liberty Bowl to Oklahoma State. Missouri easily could’ve finished 10-2, but they lost two games by a combined three points to Kentucky and South Carolina. The schedule sets up favorably for an even bigger season, albeit one without a bowl game, unless the NCAA overturns the bowl ban imposed on the Tigers back in January. They only face two teams that were ranked in the preseason coaches poll: Georgia on November 9th, and Florida on November 16th.
Missouri lost Drew Lock, who started 46 games in his illustrious career at Missouri, and Terry Beckner Jr., who has been the leader on the defensive line for the past few years. Luckily for the Tigers, they landed Clemson transfer Kelly Bryant, who lost his starting job to a generational talent in Trevor Lawrence. Bryant is going to be accompanied by an explosive running attack that will be led by Larry Rountree, who rushed for six yards per carry last year and averaged over 120 rushing yards per game in the final five games of the season.
The main threat in the passing game is going to be Albert Okwuegbunam. There is a good chance Okwuegbunam could be the first tight end off the board in the draft next year. The receiving corps is legitimately five to six deep and will be lead by seniors Johnathon Johnson and grad transfer Jonathan Nance. Derek Dooley is in his second year as the offensive coordinator and should have a top-20 ranked offense at his disposal.
Cale Garrett is one of the best linebackers in the SEC and is back to lead the defense. The defensive line will have plenty of versatility with numerous guys that can play multiple positions, but questions still remain as to how productive that unit as a whole can be. Missouri has two returning starters with DeMarkus Acy and Christian Holmes at the corner position. Barry Odom needs to coach this group up if they’re going to win a game against either Georgia or Florida.
This Missouri team didn’t lose a single transfer after the bowl ban was announced and that makes me think that we’re going to see a team that has rallied around each other this off-season. The schedule sets up nicely with a terrible Wyoming team to open, followed by five straight home games, three of which are against opponents with new head coaches. The road trip to Georgia followed by Florida at home the following week is going to decide if this team can get to double-digit wins in year four under Barry Odom. Unfortunately, the NCAA will decide if they get to play in a bowl game or not.
*Side Note: This Missouri team has @calebpressley at training camp so follow along and take a deeper look into what could be an intriguing season for the Tigers.
TEAMS TO FADE
Previously: Ole Miss, Kentucky
– West Virginia Mountaineers: Neal Brown comes over from Troy to replace Dana Holgorsen, who left for Houston after a 2018 campaign that saw the Mountaineers go 8-4. Neal Brown brings an impressive resume to West Virginia after turning around the Troy program, becoming one of the most sought after Group of Five coaches in the off-season. I think he is a great fit for the Mountaineers and will be very successful over the next decade or two with his new team. The problem Brown faces in his first year is that West Virginia ranks below 100th in returning production. They lost Will Grier, Yodny Cajuste, Gary Jennings, Trevon Wesco and David Long to the NFL draft. They also lost wide receiver David Sills who has the second most touchdowns in school history.
The offense lost a lot of weapons, but they did land Austin Kendall from Oklahoma. Kendall was beat out for the quarterback job in fall camp by Kyler Murray, who went on to become the number one overall pick. The quarterback competition will be an interesting one to watch with Jack Allison and Trey Lowe both returning, but ultimately Kendall should take the starting spot. The running back position is deep with Kennedy McKoy and Martell Pettaway returning to go along with a few younger guys who could make a big name for themselves in the near future. The problem this team has is that the receiving core and offensive line are awful. They lack returning production and depth which is a detrimental combination to have with two tough games to start the season.
The defense has a lot of questions surrounding them after losing Kenny Robinson to the transfer portal. Who will step up for this defense? There are not a lot of big time playmakers on this side of the ball for West Virgina. Defensive coordinator Vic Koenning is going to need somebody to step up in order to slow down the offenses in the Big 12.
The schedule isn’t set up to West Virginia’s benefit with games against James Madison, Missouri and NC State in the non-conference. I fully expect West Virginia to lose in Week 1 against FBS powerhouse James Madison, and I’m curious to see what that line looks like. This team should be better late in the season and will make a big jump in Brown’s second year. I just see this team struggling early on with a new QB, coaching change, and just overall lack of talent. Maybe they beat Texas Tech, Oklahoma State, or Kansas State later on in the season, but I think Mountaineers fans are going to be disappointed at the beginning of the Troy Brown era.
Cover photo via: L.G. Patterson/AP Photo
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