Thursday, August 29, 2013

Welcome back, college football

It’s back.

On Saturday, black-and-gold clad fans will fill the old bowl at the southern end of campus, Truman the Tiger will spin his tail, and Marching Mizzou will play those old familiar tunes. The Missouri Tigers will dash out onto the turf and begin the 2013 season, their 88th fall at old Faurot Field.

The schedule is set up to build momentum early in the season. Last season, the Tigers faced SEC heavyweights Georgia and South Carolina before the calendar turned to October. This year, Missouri’s September is much more manageable: Murray State, Toledo, a bye week, at Indiana and Arkansas State.

The opener with Murray State (6 p.m. Saturday, pay-per-view TV) should be a chance for the Tigers to work out any kinks and notch a fairly comfortable win. The Racers, from Murray, Ky., are in the Football Championship Subdivision (formerly I-AA), a cut below Missouri’s Football Bowl Subdivision, which is allowed to award more full-ride scholarships.

When playing the big FBS schools, FCS teams usually offer about as much resistance as I do when a family member offers me yet another piece of pie on Thanksgiving. Last year Murray State lost 69-3 to a strong Florida State team. The Racers went 5-6 last season.

But Murray State will no doubt bring their best effort for their game with an SEC team. The Racers do have a decent passing offense, and they throw the ball a lot.

Ole Miss transfer Maikhail Miller will likely start at quarterback for Murray State. He has some scrambling ability, and a reliable target in senior receiver Walter Powell, an FCS All-American last year.

Again, Missouri should win comfortably. Under coach Gary Pinkel, Missouri is 9-0 against FCS teams, with an average score of 50-7. But this is still the first chance for Tiger fans to get a look at what their team will be like. Here are three areas in particular to watch:

Henry Josey’s return

Josey makes his return after suffering a major knee injury late in 2011 at Faurot Field. He should have plenty of gaps to run through against the Racers. But it won’t be all smooth sailing against SEC foes, so seeing Josey hit the openings with that same old burst and break a tackle or two would be encouraging.

Pass defense

Murray State’s passing tendencies should provide a decent test for the Missouri secondary. The SEC has become a league with several good quarterbacks, so this unit, anchored by senior cornerback E.J. Gaines, needs to hold its own this fall.

Maty Mauk

Not stoking a quarterback controversy here; perish the thought. Senior James Franklin is the starter, but backup freshman Mauk is the future. Assuming the Tigers can build up a lead, Mauk should get a decent chunk of playing time, giving fans a glimpse of 2014.

Plenty of bigger tests await this season, but kicking things off with what should be a big win under the lights of Faurot Field is a good way to get things started.

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