Missouri Football: Tigers Looking to Defend SEC East Crown

Missouri Looking to Defend SEC East Crown

3/31/14 in NCAAF   |   BlakeLovell   |   86 respect

Nov 2, 2013; Columbia, MO, USA; Missouri Tigers quarterback Maty Mauk (7) throws a pass during the first half of the game against the Tennessee Volunteers at Faurot Field. Missouri won 31-3. Mandatory Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY SportsAfter going 5-7 and missing a bowl game for the first time since 2004, no one looked at the Missouri Tigers as potential SEC champions entering the 2013 regular season.

But Gary Pinkel's squad was one win away from doing just that and playing for the national championship after a season to remember in Columbia.

Missouri started the season 7-0 before losing a double-overtime thriller to Connor Shaw and the South Carolina Gamecocks, and eventually made a run all the way to the SEC title game. Certainly not a season to complain about following a difficult 2012 campaign.

If the Tigers are to defend their SEC East crown though, they'll have to do so without key contributors from last season.

All-world quarterback James Franklin is gone after contributing 25 total touchdowns. Running back Henry Josey and wide receiver L'Damian Washington are as well on the offensive side of the ball. Defensively, Pinkel must replace six of his nine top tacklers from a season ago.

That's quite a bit of production lost, to say the least.

But as Pinkel has proved over the years, he can find players to step right in and keep the Tigers rolling right along.

Maty Mauk will take Franklin's place under center, and after some outstanding performances during Franklin's absence due to injury, there's no reason to think that he can't get the job done on offense for the Tigers. It helps that he has future NFL wide receiver Dorial Green-Beckham to throw to as well. 

Green-Beckham was simply a beast down the stretch last season, and he should be even better in 2014.

While the offense should keep chugging along, the defense faces a ton of question marks. How does Missouri replace Michael Sam and Kony Ealy on the line? Who will make the type of impact that E.J. Gaines did in the secondary?

These are the types of questions that must be answered if the Tigers are to make it back to Atlanta for the SEC title game.

The schedule doesn't do them any favors in that quest. Despite a winnable non-conference slate, Pinkel's team faces daunting road trips to South Carolina, Florida, Texas A&M, and Tennessee within the SEC portion of the schedule. Not to mention a home tilt with a defensive-minded Georgia team.

Replicating success from year to year is not easy. Gus Malzahn will face that challenge at Auburn, and Pinkel must face that challenge at Missouri.

Even with the losses of top stars, don't sleep on the Tigers. If you do, it may be 2013 all over again.

How do you think Missouri will fare in 2014? Let us know by commenting below! For more college football talk, follow FanIQ College Football or myself on Twitter!
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