New coach Barry Odom tries for turnaround at Missouri
COLUMBIA, Mo. (AP) It's up to Barry Odom to put a halt to the negativity surrounding Missouri. The new coach certainly seems confident he can get the program back on its feet.
''Well, it's going to be really hard to get me down,'' Odom said after the first day of fall workouts. ''I think we've got a chance to win championships here.''
The news has been all dismal, on and off the field, the last several months.
The Tigers slid to 5-7 last year, including 1-7 to share the cellar in the SEC East, in Gary Pinkel's final season before resigning to battle cancer. Two productive defensive linemen were dismissed before drills began, and that's not to mention carry over from campus upheaval.
Protests last fall led to the team threatening to boycott a game if changes weren't made in the administration. Pinkel and then-athletic director Mack Rhoades backed the players.
Now there's a new coach and AD, too, with Jim Sterk appointed this week.
''We're not a campus of turmoil,'' Sterk said.
The 39-year-old Odom was defensive coordinator last year for a unit ranked ninth in the nation, allowing 302 yards per game, after resume-building the previous three seasons as defensive coordinator at Memphis. That earned the nod to replace Pinkel, who won consecutive SEC East titles in 2013-14 and is the school career wins leader with 118.
Missouri will need to keep scores down again given concerns on the other side of the ball. The offense produced just 13.6 points per game, has no returning starters on the line and lacks proven producers at the skill positions, raising the challenge for new offensive coordinator Josh Heupel.
Sophomore quarterback Drew Lock was highly touted out of high school but threw just four touchdown passes after taking over last fall.
''I told our guys we've got to live up to our expectations, not so much to media or conference or any of those things,'' defensive coordinator Demontie Cross said. ''We know what we're capable of.''
The toughest stretch could be early in conference play with LSU (Oct. 1) and Florida (Oct. 15) both on the road. Both schools are projected to finish second in their respective divisions. It'll help a bit to have a week off between games.
A 7-5 finish is doable if the offense can produce just a little more and Missouri avoids stumbles but it very easily could be 5-7 again.
Defensive line depth was a strength and it'll be tested after the dismissal of Walter Brady Jr. for violation of team rules and Harold Brantley due to academics. Brady tied for the team lead with seven sacks.
''I can't wait for the year to show everybody,'' tackle Rickey Hatley said. ''The whole D-line is going to be real good.''
Junior end Charles Harris was a standout with seven sacks last season and senior linebacker Michael Scherer is an experienced hand. Don't forget sophomore tackle Terry Beckner, one of Missouri's most heralded recruits in years and looking strong coming off knee surgery.
Missouri must replace production of departed linebacker Kentrell Brothers, a second-team SEC pick.
Pinkel generally named captains on the first day of practice following team vote. Odom is waiting to see who steps up.
''Things change from the first day of camp before you get to Sept. 3, so I'm challenging our team,'' Odom said.
The Tigers begin Sept. 3 at West Virginia, a much more challenging foe than in recent seasons. Skyler Howard set a Cactus Bowl record with 532 yards passing in a 43-42 victory over Arizona State. The Mountaineers were 8-5 last year and are predicted to finish seventh in the Big 12. They're inexperienced at linebacker and the secondary with just one starter back.
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