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May 29, 2013Ninety-four days separate us from Missouri's 2013 football season-opener against Murray State. While there are questions about the Tigers' team that remain to be answered -- and likely won't be answered until August camp -- PowerMizzou.com is taking a look at the other factors that will determine whether Missouri's 2013 campaign will be a success or failure.
Over the next five days, we're counting down the top 25 opposing players that could bite Missouri this season, in order of least to most important in deciding whether the Tigers' bounce back from a 5-7 2012 season. This list isn't solely broken down by the clout of the opposing player -- you won't see Johnny Manziel or Jadeveon Clowney hogging the top-5. We're considering other factors, such as whether the game may have Missouri has favorites or underdogs, when in the season it will occur, whether it's at home or on the road, etc., as we rank the most important 25 opposing players that Missouri will have to neutralize this fall.
25. Toledo receiver Alonzo Russell (SO 6-4, 190-lbs)
The Details: 55 receptions, 953 yards, 5 TDs
Senior Bernard Reedy actually put up better numbers than Russell in 2012, but the lanky freshman for the Rockets made the most of his first year in college. He averaged over 17 yards per reception, and only finished with 160 fewer yards than Reedy despite having 33 fewer receptions.
There are more reasons why Russell could be a headache for Missouri when the teams play on Sep. 7. Quarterback Terrance Owens has been efficient in his three years for Toledo, compiling 45 touchdowns to 16 interceptions and should be even better as a senior. But Toledo's offense starts with running back David Fluellen (more on him in a bit) and with his presence on the ground, Russell could find space downfield against a Missouri secondary that ranked 83rd nationally in passing plays allowed over 20-yards.
24. Kentucky defensive end Alvin Dupree (JR 6-4, 254-lbs)
The Details: 91 tackles, 12.5 TFL, 6.5 sacks in 2012
Dupree may not be a widely-known name yet in the SEC, but he's poised to become one in 2013. Dupree was the best defender on a poor Kentucky defense in 2012, but he compiled all those stats while mainly playing linebacker. With new coach Mark Stoops now residing in Lexington, Dupree is moving full-time to defensive end, which could help him boost his tackles-for-loss and sack totals. Missouri's offensive line should be improved this year if it stays healthy, but their game against the Wildcats on Nov. 9 could be one of the biggest in the year in deciding bowl-eligibility. Stopping Dupree becomes even more important because of that.
23. Arkansas State running back David Oku (SR 5-10, 195-lbs)
The Details: 1220 total yards, 17 total touchdowns; 243 carries for 1061 yards
The former blue-chip recruit and Tennessee transfer had his best season in 2012 under the now-departed Gus Malzahn. This season, Oku becomes the Red Wolves main returning threat as Arkansas State is breaking in a new coach in Bryan Harsin (formerly of Texas and Boise State) and a new quarterback. Ryan Apling, who threw for 24 touchdowns to only four interceptions as a senior, has to be replaced and the battle to be QB1 hasn't been decided yet.
Because of that, Oku becomes The Guy in Harsin's offense, and stopping him is likely the key to a projected victory for Missouri when the two teams meet in Columbia on Sep. 28.
22. Toledo running back David Fluellen (SR 6-0, 215-lbs)
The Details: 1744 total yards (1498 rushing, 246 receiving), 13 TDs (all rushing)
Fluellen is a bigger back that did most of his damage over a six-game stretch in 2012. From Oct. 6 to Nov. 6, he ran for 1,094 yards, eclipsing 200 yards in three of those games. He was the key cog in a Toledo rushing attack that finished the season ranked 35th in rushing yards, and he averaged six yards per touch as a junior. Toledo also returns four starters from last year's offensive line that paved the way for Fluellen's breakout.
Because it's a home game, Missouri should be favored to win. However, Fluellen was consistent as a junior. He was limited in a close win over Coastal Carolina and he missed the regular-season finale with a sprained ankle. The only teams to really slow him down when he was healthy were Bowling Green (21 carries, 81 yards, 2 touchdowns) and Northern Illinois (22 for 79, 1 touchdown). Those teams ranked 12th and 48th against the run in 2012. At the same time, Fluellen ran for 161 against Cincinnati (31st against the run), 213 against Western Michigan (55th) and 228 against Buffalo (56th).
Missouri finished last season ranked 50th in the nation. Focusing on stopping Fluellen should be the Tigers' first task when the two teams meet on Sep. 7 in Columbia.
21. Georgia running backs Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall
The Details: 339 combined carries, 2144 yards, 25 touchdowns
Yes, yes. I'm cheating here. But Gurley and Marshall combined for perhaps the best one-two backfield attack in the SEC in 2012, and although Gurley established himself as the starter late in the season, both will play a big role against Missouri and every opponent this season.
Their inclusion on this list at No. 21 may surprise people, but remember -- it's not about the BEST opponents the Tigers will see this season. It's about the opponents that will decide whether Missouri's season is a success or failure. Missouri will likely head to Athens as underdogs. Because of that, a loss to the Bulldogs won't decide whether the Tigers rebound from a 5-7 year -- it's going to be decided based on a handful of other games. That's why Georgia's Gurshall is lower on the list.
Yet if Missouri pulls an upset, stopping Georgia's two-headed monster will be a big reason why. In games where Georgia ran for at least 160 yards in 2012, Aaron Murray's efficiency rating was 177.39. In games where the Bulldogs' run game was held under that mark, it dropped to 144.11, and six of his ten interceptions came in those games. Murray will make an appearance later on this list, but stopping Marshall and Gurley will be a huge factor when the two teams meet in Athens on Oct. 13.