Quarterback Drew Lock walked off the field at Razorback Stadium with a sixth straight victory, an SEC record for touchdown passes in a season and a bowl-game berth for Missouri.
281 days later, Lock will step foot on Farout Field to begin his senior year campaign — one that Tiger fans have high expectations for. And who can blame them, as Lock’s offense is returning 10 of 11 starters, including the entire offensive line; while the defense is returning 8 of 11.
That being said, a tough road still lies ahead for Missouri to make its first SEC Championship in five seasons. The SEC East is stacked with talent at the top, and a matchup with reigning National Champion Alabama makes matters even tougher for the Tigers.
Missouri opens up SEC play with a home matchup against Georgia on Sept. 22. Many project the Bulldogs to run the table in the SEC East in 2018, and who can blame them. Led by then-freshman quarterback Jake Fromm, Georgia came a second-half meltdown away from winning the National Championship last year. Despite a recent injury to Fromm’s non-throwing hand, he isn’t expected to miss any playing time.
Head coach Kirby Smart, a Nick Saban prodigy, proved himself to be one of the best coaches in college football. Losing the amount of players he did shouldn’t affect him too much, as Georgia typically has one of the best recruiting classes every year.
If Lock and new offensive coordinator Derek Dooley mesh well together, don’t be surprised if Missouri upsets the Bulldogs at home.
Seven days later, Missouri travels to Columbia, S.C. to take on another squad with high expectations in 2018: the South Carolina Gamecocks. South Carolina is returning one of the better passers in the SEC in Jake Bentley. The incoming junior notched 18 touchdowns, completed over 62 percent of his passes and threw for nearly 3,000 yards in 2017.
Head Coach Will Muschamp seems to have figured out what he’s doing out there since Florida fired him in 2014. The Gamecocks have a slew of starters returning for 2018, which could make them a scary opponent for any team.
Muschamp’s former employer, Florida, is another team in the SEC East that stands in Missouri’s way. Newly-hired head coach Dan Mullen is an established winner in the SEC during his tenure at Mississippi State. He got his 2014 Bulldogs team, led by Dak Prescott, to reach a No. 1 ranking in the AP Poll; and was ranked in six of nine seasons with Mississippi State.
Mullen has always bred solid quarterback play, and he has his choice between three solid passers with the Gators in four-star freshman Emory Jones, four-star sophomore Feleipe Franks and sophomore Kyle Trask. Expect Mullen to take advantage of that and a top-10 recruiting class for a successful 2018 season in Gainesville.
Missouri takes on the Gators on the road on Nov. 3.