- Edward Aschoff, ESPN Staff Writer
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Third time's the charm, right?
At least that's what the rest of the SEC is hoping when it comes to the Missouri Tigers. Remember when Mizzou wasn't supposed to be very relevant in its new home in the SEC? Well, entering Year 4, the Tigers have back-to-back SEC Eastern Division titles. No, the Tigers don't have an SEC championship to show for it, but I'm sure traditional SEC East powers Florida, Georgia and Tennessee would love to have been in Atlanta the last couple of years.
Can the Tigers do it for a third straight year? I mean, that's ludicrous, right? The extremely confident people in Columbia, Missouri, don't think so, and it doesn't matter what shape Mizzou looks to be in at this point, you can't count them out of making a third straight run to Atlanta.
Why Missouri will win the SEC East:
Maty Mauk is healthy: Let's face it, Mauk wasn't very good at all last year. After throwing for 1,110 yards and 14 touchdowns with four interceptions through the first month of the 2014 season, Mauk's numbers plummeted, as he finished the season throwing 11 more touchdowns to nine interceptions, while completing just 52 percent of his passes. This was not the Mauk we saw a year before, but what we didn't know was that he dealt with a painful shoulder injury during the second half of the season. It impacted his throwing velocity, and caused him to be more frantic with his passes, as he was on the run more trying to avoid contact. Well, Mauk is healthy again and was slinging the ball around in practice this spring. He has to develop a host of unproven receivers, but being healthy will go a long way in helping with that. A healthy Mauk can stand in the pocket and pick defenses apart. That's what Mizzou must have if the Tigers are going to take the East again.
Gary Pinkel: Talk about someone who has found the perfect combination of development and motivation. Pinkel has never really had a team full of four- and five-star studs, but he sure does know what to do with a group of overlooked talent. Pinkel doesn't care about perception, and his teams have reflected that, especially the last two. Mizzou might not have any superstars on this roster, but you know this team and its coaching staff are motivated to once again prove people wrong. Pinkel is 113-66 during his 14 years at Mizzou for a reason. He's an outstanding coach who will get every drop of potential out of his team, while rarely overthinking things on the field.
There's no place like home: The Tigers have the benefit of playing Florida, Mississippi State, South Carolina and Tennessee all inside the friendly confines of Memorial Stadium. Over the last two seasons, Missouri has gone 6-2 at home against SEC opponents. In a year in which we still don't know what to expect from the SEC East, the Tigers will get four of their toughest games of the season all at home -- three coming against East opponents. Of those four, only Florida had a winning record against SEC opponents away from Gainesville (3-1), but the Gators have a host of questions and issues to work through this season.
Why Missouri won't win the SEC East:
Georgia: The Bulldogs are the heavy favorite to win the East. They return arguably the best linebacker corps in the country, the best running back around in Nick Chubb, four starters along the offensive line, and a lot of athleticism/solid experience in the secondary. There are questions at quarterback and with the defensive line, but the Dawgs are still loaded on both sides of the ball. Plus, Georgia's toughest road game is at Auburn, and Missouri has to play in Athens this year.
Unproven WR/DL: The elite defensive ends that led Mizzou's defenses the past two years are gone. And with the status of menacing defensive tackle Harold Brantley for the season unknown after he suffered a knee injury in a car accident, we don't know how if there's a lethal combination up front for the Tigers. Josh Augusta could be a force in the middle, but he'll need help to avoid double-teams. Maybe freshman Terry Beckner Jr. will make a quick adjustment. Mizzou's ends are unproven and young, so defensive line coach Craig Kuligowski has the tall order of getting them in SEC shape fast. Mizzou returns just 10 career catches from its wide receivers, with five coming from sophomore Nate Brown. There's athleticism and potential with guys like J'Mon Moore and DeSean Blair, but there's just not a lot of experience to make this group very intimating right now.
12dGreg Ostendorf and Alex Scarborough
34dSam Khan Jr.