Editor's note: The spectacle that is SEC media days ended last week. But with the newly-expanded four-day media event over, we're at a bit of a loss. Fall camp isn't here yet; the regular season is even further away, with the 2014 campaign kicking off at the end of August. So what better time to roll out the preseason power rankings among teams in the SEC?
With that in mind, we'll count down the teams from worst to first. The format will involve a "best-case/worst-case" scenario for each team, taking our a page out of former War Eagle Extra beat writer Andy Bitter's playbook from 2010. (One final note: Please, as Bitter said four years ago, remember all scenarios "are meant to be hyperbolic.")
No. 8: Missouri
Last season, Missouri proved a lot of folks wrong. (Including the person writing this article.) SEC media members picked the Tigers to finish sixth — as in, next-to-last — in the Eastern Division, ahead of only Kentucky. Then Missouri went out and captured the division crown before falling to Auburn 59-42 in a track meet of an SEC championship game.
So one would think after 2013, media members would learn their lesson right? Of course not. The Tigers were predicted to finish fourth in the East this year and didn't receive a single vote to win the league title.
After last year, one could say they're used to being overlooked.
Best-case scenario: Media members end up having to eat crow once more, as Missouri wins the East for the second straight season. Sure, they lose two conference games this year (compared to one in 2013) — coming out on top of a three-way tiebreaker over Georgia and South Carolina — and yes, they lose to Auburn in the SEC championship game again. But in a way, this year's result is even more satisfying.
Last year's team was filled with stars offensively and defensively; in 2014, the two biggest names play up front: center Evan Boehm and defensive lineman Markus Golden. When the season starts, they mimic their 2013 campaign, jumping out to a 4-0 start behind four non-conference (South Dakota State, Toledo, Central Florida and Indiana) victories. But Missouri is in for a rude awakening when it heads down to the "other Columbia" to face South Carolina. The Gamecocks roll to a 38-17 victory to hand the Tigers their first loss.
They don't let the defeat get them down, though, as they respond by putting together a four-game win streak, highlighted by a home victory against a ranked Georgia squad. But that streak comes to a halt on the road at Texas A&M, as the Aggies' true freshman quarterback, Kyle Allen, puts on a show at Kyle Field. The Tigers acquit themselves well in a high-scoring offensive showcase, but leave the Lone Star State with a 48-45 loss in hand. Missouri exhibits its resolve once more by closing the regular season with victories over Tennessee and Arkansas.
After the tiebreaker math works in its favor, Missouri is Atlanta-bound for the second time in as many seasons. Awaiting Missouri is those pesky Auburn Tigers, however. The game follows the same script as the 2013: Missouri matches its fellow Tiger-named foe point-for-point through three quarters, but in the final period, Auburn pulls away for a 52-42 victory.
If not for the three losses, it's likely the Tigers would have punched a ticket to one of the marquee "non-College Football Playoff" games, which this year would mean the Cotton, Fiesta, Peach and Orange bowls. But the SEC title game defeat knocks Missouri down a peg, instead heading down to sunny Florida for the Capital One Bowl. Playing another team that lost in a conference championship game — Big Ten runner-up Wisconsin — the Tigers refuse to let their season end with consecutive losses.
Maty Mauk tosses four touchdowns and Golden is an unstoppable force defensively, lifting Missouri to a 34-20 triumph. With 11 wins, the Tigers have rewritten their own record book. Along with the 12 victories in 2013, Missouri has totaled 23 victories in back-to-back seasons, marking the best two-year stretch in school history, bettering the 22 combined wins in 2007-08. No, it doesn't lead to a top-10 recruiting class for 2015, but that doesn't matter. Missouri has never been a team to bring in star-studded classes, and that's not changing now.
What 2014 finally bought the Tigers was respect from media members. When SEC media days cranks up in 2015, Missouri is picked to win the Eastern Division
Worst-case scenario: Media members are actually somewhat right, for once. The Tigers' massive talent dropoff from the year before is noticeable. Without their top three receivers from a year ago — Dorial Green-Beckham, L'Damian Washington and Marcus Lucas — the passing game stagnates. They have a good line and a solid tailback in Russell Hansbrough, but without the threat of the pass, opponents hone in on the ground game. In the first four games, it doesn't hurt the Tigers, as they beat South Dakota State, Toledo, Central Florida (sans Blake Bortles) and Indiana.
As soon as SEC play starts, however, Missouri nosedives. South Carolina wallops the Tigers 49-7, which is followed up by two more losses (Georgia and Florida). Missouri temporarily rights the ship by beating Vanderbilt and Kentucky, but once the competition picks back up, the Tigers fall back down. They close the regular season with three straight defeats (Texas A&M, Tennessee and Arkansas) and are fortunate they padded their record with those four non-conference wins. At 6-6, Missouri gets into the postseason by the skin of its teeth.
After getting a Cotton Bowl berth in 2013, a bid to the Independence Bowl does little to stimulate players' senses. And it is Shreveport, La., after all. Mizzou's lack of interest is evident when it takes the field. Facing off against fellow "we'd rather be anywhere but here" ACC foe Duke, both teams get off to a sluggish start. In a game that seems neither wants to win, the Blue Devils do just enough to scratch out a 20-14 decision.
Ending the year with a 6-7 mark, it's the second time in three seasons the Tigers have finished under .500. There's no highly-touted recruiting class coming down the pike, either. When SEC media days arrive in 2015, it's hard to blame reporters when they predict Missouri will finish in fifth in the Eastern Division that fall.