Two years ago, the Missouri Tigers led the Big 12 in total defense. Many have made the comparison of this year's Tiger defense to that one.
"One thing Coach E (Matt Eberflus) talked about is getting a new identity for every defense," said defensive tackle Lorenzo Williams. "That was two years ago, we had a great defense then, last year we kind of dropped off a little bit, but this year is our defense. We're set on doing what we have to do as a defensive group, getting the job done and we'll go from there."
Mizzou brings back its top seven defensive linemen from a year ago. Also back are two starting linebackers and the team's leading tackler in David Overstreet. As much as the starters have everyone excited, it is the depth of this defense that has many thinking it can be very good. William Moore was a starter at safety throughout spring ball and the summer, but is second on the depth chart for opening week to Brandon Massey.
"We got four safeties that are guaranteed to play this year," Moore said. "Right now we're rotating. We're all getting to learn free strong, and all the positions. We can just throw anybody in the game."
The front four is the unit that has created the most buzz. College Football News ranked the Tigers seventh in the nation at that position. It brings back memories of 2003 when C.J. Mosley, Zach Ville and Attiyah Ellison led the Tigers up front.
"A year ago, three of the four starters we lost made NFL rosters and C.J. we didn't expect to lose so that didn't help," said head coach Gary Pinkel. "We were undersized inside a little bit and it's very difficult I think to be an outstanding defensive line if you're undersized, especially at the defensive tackle spot, just because it's so important up the middle to be strong. I think we're a lot different team now, we have guys that are 20-25 pounds heavier right now."
Of course, simply bringing players back is not nearly enough. Missouri surrendered 41 offensive touchdowns in 2005 and gave up nearly 30 points a game.
"You've got to go and play better," Pinkel said. "But I think the potential is there to be much better."
Can it be good enough to lead the league again? That is not a goal that the Tigers are all that concerned about just yet.
"I don't think you look at the end of the season, we want to be ranked here, we want to look at the record books and be ranked there," Pinkel said. "I don't think that's wise. What is wise is you want to play a more consistent football game week in, week out, which that's what I want to do, is your entire focus is on your preparation to play your best game. Not, we got to go out and win this game, this is a big game, important game, we got to have the best defense. All that's wasted. All that's wasted. That has nothing to do with you playing your best game."
The Tigers have set out a few goals already in the pre-season.
"We got goals between each individual group as far as safeties, linebackers, and also as a whole unit," Moore said. "Some of our goals are to be number one in run defense, secondary step up and lead the team in picks and also big hits. We got a lot of goals on the defensive side."
They've got a lot of players as well. Now, the Tigers have to make that translate into a whole lot of wins.