Blum: Mizzou football's path to eight wins in 2021 regular season

Eric Blum
Columbia Daily Tribune

Another Missouri football season is upon us, and it's primed to be the first of the Eli Drinkwitz era without the unpredictability of scheduling changes.

The Tigers return to a 12-game regular-season schedule, with four nonconference games and eight Southeastern Conference showdowns. There are seven games at Faurot Field and five away from Columbia.

How will the Tigers fare this season?

Here are Tribune Mizzou athletics beat reporter Eric Blum's predictions as to how each game will go. 

Sept. 4: Mizzou vs. Central Michigan

Missouri's season opener against the Chippewas isn't a breeze-through matchup. It was only a few years ago that Central Michigan made the Mid-American Conference title game. 

Chippewas head coach Jim McElwain has Power Five head coaching experience and won't be intimidated by the stage of Faurot Field.

CMU starting running back Kobe Lewis went down in the preseason with a knee injury, however, and without one of their biggest weapons, the Chippewas won't be able to hang with the Tigers for long — Missouri 45, Central Michigan 17.

Sept. 11: Mizzou at Kentucky

The most important game of the year for Missouri might be in Week 2. The ultra-important contest against the Wildcats, serving as Missouri's SEC opener, could dictate the rest of the Tigers' season. 

Missouri hasn't won in Lexington since 2014, snapping a five-game losing streak to Kentucky last season. 

This offseason, the Wildcats changed offensive coordinators and should have a new look with Penn State transfer Will Levis at quarterback. 

It would be surprising for this game to be decided by more than a touchdown. Missouri's depth, and perhaps the leg of Harrison Mevis, put the Tigers in control of this one late — Missouri 27, Kentucky 24.

Missouri wide receiver Tauskie Dove (86) is tackled by Vanderbilt safety Maxwell Worship (14) during a game last season at Faurot Field.

Sept. 18: Mizzou vs. Southeast Missouri State

Two years ago, Missouri beat SEMO 50-0, and that Redhawks team went on to win an FCS playoff game. 

The Tigers are in a different class than their in-state foes. This isn't an Appalachian State beating Michigan situation, or anything close. 

SEMO has talent, just not enough to consistently compete with Missouri at anything. 

Drinkwitz won't let the Tigers overlook the Redhawks, either — Missouri 55, SEMO 10

Sept. 25: Mizzou at Boston College

The only nonconference road game for the Tigers of 2021 is a tough test in their first contest against an Atlantic Coast Conference in a decade. 

Boston College's football program is in a similar position to Missouri — an up-and-coming team that finished middle of the pack last season and has the potential for much more under a second-year head coach. 

The Eagles' offensive line and offensive playmakers are stout and will be the biggest challenge for Missouri in the first month of the season. 

Missouri won't make it easy for Boston College, but the Tigers take their first loss of the season here — Boston College 31, Missouri 20.

Oct. 2: Mizzou vs. Tennessee

Josh Heupel returns to Columbia for the first time since 2017, when he was Missouri's offensive coordinator and led Drew Lock to his best statistical season at MU. 

Now after a tenure at the helm of Central Florida, Heupel takes over an embattled Tennessee squad with a ton of turnover. 

More:Here's how we graded every SEC football team's 2021 recruiting class

The Volunteers have the potential to be good in 2021 with an offensive-minded coach, but they have one huge red flag: How will they play defense without a lot of talent and a coaching staff that isn't proven on that side of the ball?

The Tigers' offense will take advantage and run up the score on Tennessee, much like the Volunteers did last year in Knoxville when much more uncertainty surrounded MU — Missouri 48, Tennessee 24

Missouri place kicker Harrison Mevis (92) is congratulated by holder Grant McKinniss (19) during a game against Alabama last season at Faurot Field.

Oct. 9: Mizzou vs. North Texas

In Missouri's last nonconference game of the year, the Mean Green present a good challenge before the gauntlet of the SEC truly gets underway. 

The Tigers will come into this game with a chip on their shoulder after losing their first game of 2021, and they should outclass North Texas eventually. 

It's a common trend among the first few teams Missouri faces, but the Mean Green have a transfer quarterback as well, as North Carolina transfer Jace Ruder will likely be North Texas' signal caller that day. Missouri will have too much for North Texas to overcome — Missouri 35, North Texas 21.

Oct. 16: Mizzou vs. Texas A&M

The best team to come to Columbia this season will be the Aggies in the yearly non-traditional SEC crossover game. 

Texas A&M's depth has tilted in its favor, and an appearance in the College Football Playoff isn't a far-fetched thought.

Missouri has a chance to play spoiler here in a proving ground to measure the long-term potential of the program.

A good showing for MU will do, and that's what happens. But the Aggies are too good — Texas A&M 38, Missouri 23.

Oct. 30: Mizzou at Vanderbilt

After a bye week, Missouri returns to Nashville. Last time in The Music City, the Tigers began their five-game losing streak in 2019 that spelled the end of Barry Odom's tenure as head coach.

More:Three things we learned in Mizzou's 41-0 victory over Vanderbilt

The Commodores have a new head coach since the teams' meeting last November. Clark Lea replaces Derek Mason, who was fired hours after Missouri defeated Vanderbilt 41-0.

Vanderbilt hasn't improved much from the squad it trotted out at Faurot Field that day, as another last-place finish in the SEC East appears to be on the horizon. 

No road game in the SEC is easy, but after a little turbulence, the Tigers pull out a win — Missouri 31, Vanderbilt 14

Nov. 6: Mizzou at Georgia

On paper, this is Missouri's toughest matchup of the regular season, entering a 92,000-seat venue of a national-title contender and the runaway favorite to win the SEC East. 

The last time Missouri was shut out, it was against Georgia at Sanford Stadium in 2019. And this Bulldogs team is loaded. 

The Tigers are longshots to win this game and shouldn't put much stock into being blown out by Georgia, since it'll likely do the same to most of its opponents this season. 

Missouri shouldn't be a no-show in this game, but the chances of winning could slip away quickly — Georgia 41, Missouri 13.

Missouri linebacker Devin Nicholson (11) celebrates with teammates after clinching a 17-10 win against South Carolina with an interception last season at Williams-Brice Stadium in Columbia, S.C.

Nov. 13: Mizzou vs. South Carolina

The Tigers have defeated the Gamecocks in each of the past two seasons, with a three-game losing streak to South Carolina predating that.

This showdown will represent Shane Beamer's first trip to Columbia as a head coach and could present challenges for Missouri, as the Gamecocks will have had plenty of time to figure out their system. 

Missouri looks to have more firepower and likely should pull away from South Carolina when the Tigers put their foot on the gas. 

The Gamecocks should do better than their last time in the SEC's western Columbia, when they made one play that broke Missouri's defense. But MU will roll in this one — Missouri 28, South Carolina 17.

Nov. 20: Mizzou vs. Florida

The Gators have had trouble putting up points at Faurot Field the last two times they've come through.

Many Missouri fans view this contest as one of the easiest ways to "close the gap" between the Tigers and the SEC East's elite. Florida will take a step down from last year's team, but not a huge one. 

More:Blum's Banter: What closing the gap means for Mizzou football in 2021

Gators head coach Dan Mullen and Drinkwitz haven't shied away from fueling this rivalry, and there'll be no love lost between the teams after last season's brawl before halftime.

There's usually one heartbreaking loss during the season for Missouri. It's not a guarantee it happens in the Tigers' penultimate game, but that scenario makes a lot of sense — Florida 33, Missouri 27.

Arkansas defensive coordinator Barry Odom looks on before the start of a game against Missouri last season at Faurot Field.

Nov. 26: Mizzou at Arkansas

The Battle Line Rivalry returns to Fayetteville for the first time since 2017, and the Razorbacks' fan base likely sees this game as a must-win. 

Missouri has won the last five editions of this matchup, including last year's instant classic, finishing with a Harrison Mevis game-winning field goal as time expired. 

Arkansas should show more improvements under its second-year head coach Sam Pittman, but Drinkwitz will have his team more than motivated for this Black Friday regular-season finale. 

The Razorbacks likely will lead at some point during this game, but Missouri is still a step ahead in terms of talent and finishes the regular season at 8-4 — Missouri 45, Arkansas 34.

Contact Eric Blum at eblum@columbiatribune.com. Follow @ByEricBlum on Twitter.

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