Missouri remains in the middle of its search to find a replacement for fired coach Barry Odom, and the question remains who that individual will be.
But the second question to ask: Whom will the next leader have the chance to coach?
Not tight end Albert Okwuegbunam. Not defensive lineman Jordan Elliott. And not center Trystan Colon-Castillo. All declared early for the NFL Draft this past week with one year of eligibility remaining for each.
Starting quarterback Kelly Bryant won’t be back either. He, along with many other seniors, won’t return after finishing their college football eligibility in a 6-6 season with Odom.
Other Tigers could still join the list of players leaving if they decide to transfer or declare early for the NFL Draft. Both are possibilities and will be worth watching in the next few weeks whenever the new coach starts.
Operating with what we know about who is gone and who is still on the roster, here is a look at each position of who remains for the next coach of Missouri football.
Gone: Kelly Bryant (eligibility expired)
Key returners: Shawn Robinson (redshirt junior), Connor Bazelak (redshirt freshman), Taylor Powell (redshirt junior)
Missouri might have its first true quarterback battle in a while. Last season, it was clear Bryant was the starter, and Odom said as much early in camp. Before that, Drew Lock had a firm hold on the job for three seasons.
Now, Missouri has multiple contenders for the signal caller spot. Robinson is the likely favorite, considering his experience. He started 13 games for Texas Christian University over two seasons before transferring to Missouri before the 2019 season. The former four-star recruit had to sit out the year after having his transfer waiver denied. And most importantly, he does not have a major injury from which to heal.
That’s Bazelak’s status. Bazelak tore his ACL against Arkansas. He showed reasons for optimism in his appearance against Georgia, so if he is healthy, he could compete with Robinson for the starting job. That’s a big if, though.
As far as Powell goes, he struggled in his lone start against the Bulldogs. He appeared in five games this season, throwing only one touchdown. That came against Arkansas, when Powell entered the game while backing up Bazelak. Powell might have a shot to compete for the starting job next season, but with the way his 2019 season ended, he will have to play much better to have a legitimate shot at the starting job. Expect it to be Robinson’s job to lose.
Returners: Larry Rountree III (senior), Tyler Badie (junior), Dawson Downing (redshirt senior), Anthony Watkins (sophomore), Simi Bakare (junior), Jerney Jones (redshirt senior)
Missouri is set to return its entire rushing attack. However, that could change if Rountree decides to declare early for the NFL Draft. He led Missouri with nine rushing touchdowns and 829 rushing yards. That’s two touchdowns and about 400 yards fewer than he had in 2018.
Behind him, Badie is also set to return after a season in which he proved to be a weapon both in the running game and passing game. He finished with eight touchdowns, three on the ground and five through the air. Downing also saw more significant time in the backfield this season, often coming into games to relieve Rountree and Badie if they needed a break or if they were struggling. Watkins and Bakare also logged snaps late in blowouts. Jones is listed as a running back, but he is mainly a special teams player.
Gone: Johnathon Johnson, Jonathan Nance, Justin Smith (eligibility expired for all)
Returners: Micah Wilson (redshirt senior), Khmari Thompson (redshirt sophomore), Jalen Knox (junior), C.J. Boone (redshirt freshman), Barrett Banister (redshirt junior), Kam Scott (junior), Dominic Gicinto (junior), Carson McCarty (redshirt junior), Daniel Ellinger (redshirt senior), Maurice Massey (redshirt freshman), Tauskie Dove (redshirt sophomore), Cade Musser (redshirt sophomore)
Missouri is losing its top receiver in Nance, a former graduate transfer from Arkansas. But he was just the best of an overall mediocre receiving core. Badie actually caught more receiving touchdowns than any wide receiver. The Tigers also lose Johnson, a slot receiver, who was one of Missouri’s leading receivers until he missed the last four games because of an illness and injury.
The Tigers return Scott, Knox and Banister in 2020, all of whom started several games this season. Banister saw significant snaps as the starting slot receiver in Johnson’s absence. A former walk-on, he might have been Missouri’s most reliable receiver in the final quarter of the season. Gicinto and Dove also finished with at least two receptions each. Massey saw some time as well, but he maintains his redshirt for the 2019 season because he played in only four games. Musser might not contribute much on offense, but he will likely have a shot at the punt returning job with Richaud Floyd having used up his eligibility this season.
Gone: Albert Okwuegbunam (NFL Draft)
Returners: Daniel Parker Jr. (junior), Niko Hea (sophomore), Logan Christopherson (redshirt junior), Messiah Swinson (redshirt sophomore), Zac Schachtner (redshirt sophomore), Brendan Scales (redshirt senior)
The loss of Okwuegbunam will be one of the biggest for the Tigers this season. He led the Tigers with six touchdown receptions. It was not his best season in yards or receptions, as his hands were not always reliable, but he still leaves the Tigers without a big receiver who has speed on which defenses have to focus.
Now, it’s time for Parker to lead the group. The former defensive lineman’s strength is blocking, but he caught 15 passes in 2019. He served as the No. 2 tight end throughout the year, but late in the season with Okwuegbunam banged up, Parker saw plenty of time. He has room to grow as a receiver, but he’s ready to log significant snaps.
Hea and Christopherson also saw the field at times. Missouri often brought Christopherson in to block in three tight end sets. Hea ran several routes, too. His development will be interesting to watch in his second season, as coaches raved about his potential early in the 2019 season. Scales had to fight his way back from an injury again this season and only played in the Vanderbilt game.
Gone: Center Trystan Colon-Castillo (NFL Draft), Left tackle Yasir Durant, guard Tre’Vour Wallace-Simms, Thomas Grossman (eligibility expired)
Returners: Hyrin White (redshirt junior), Luke Griffin (redshirt freshman), Steven Hardy (redshirt sophomore), Case Cook (redshirt junior), Richard Taylor (redshirt sophomore), Bobby Lawrence (redshirt sophomore), Trenton Sederwall (redshirt freshman), Jack Buford (redshirt freshman), D.J. Bullard (redshirt freshman), Xavier Delgado (redshirt sophomore), Mike Ruth (redshirt sophomore), Angel Matute (redshirt senior), Javon Foster (redshirt sophomore), Thalen Robinson (redshirt freshman), Larry Borom (redshirt junior)
The Missouri offensive line will look much different in 2020. Gone are three starters in Colon-Castillo, Durant and Wallace-Simms. The latter two have a solid shot at being drafted. All three were the only ones who remained regulars in the starting lineup while Cook, Borom and White switched in and out of the other three spots. All three of the starters leaving served as multi-year starters. The offensive line has plenty of young players to watch who could have a shot at filling those spots. Either way, whoever coaches the Tigers’ offensive line in 2020 will have plenty of difficult decisions to make.
For a look at the defense, check back to the Columbia Missourian website Friday.