- Greg Ostendorf, ESPN Staff Writer
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We continue our most important game" series, which looks at the most important game for each SEC team in 2014. These are the games that will have the biggest impact on the league race or hold special meaning for one of the teams involved. Today, we take a look at Missouri.
Most important game: Oct. 11 vs Georgia
Key players: Is anybody else still wondering how Missouri reached the SEC championship game last season? People doubted the Tigers all year, and they proved us all wrong time and time again. That team lost a lot of talent, but the cupboard isn’t bare heading into this season.
Quarterback Maty Mauk will become the full-time starter and if last fall was any indication, he has a chance to be one of the top signal-callers in the league. In his four starts, all against SEC teams, he threw for 910 yards, 10 touchdowns and just two interceptions. He’ll have to be at the top of his game against Georgia, but it certainly doesn’t hurt that the Dawgs lost three starters in their secondary this offseason. To be fair, Missouri will be without its top three pass-catchers from a year ago, including sophomore Dorial Green-Beckham who was dismissed from the team in April. It will be up to Bud Sasser and Jimmie Hunt to pick up the slack.
It’s more likely that the Tigers will lean on its running back tandem this season. Henry Josey is gone, but Russell Hansbrough and Marcus Murphy each rushed for over 600 yards and over 6.0 yards per carry a year ago. Expect them both to put up big numbers early in the season, but how will they fare once the SEC slate begins? The Georgia game will be a major test for them and for the offensive line.
The real question mark for Missouri isn’t the offense. It’s the defense. The Tigers reloaded at defensive end, replacing Michael Sam and Kony Ealy with Markus Golden and Shane Ray, but will that be enough to slow down Todd Gurley, Keith Marshall and the rest of Georgia’s running backs? The key will be safety Braylon Webb and his ability to come up and play the run. He was second on the team in tackles last season.
Why it matters: The Georgia game could be the difference between Missouri making it back to Atlanta as SEC East champs or sneaking into a bowl game with six wins. That’s right. The schedule actually sets up nicely for the Tigers to make another run at the East. They open the season with four winnable games before heading to South Carolina for the SEC opener. A loss to the Gamecocks would hurt, but it’s still early. However, if Missouri loses to South Carolina and Georgia in back-to-back games, then the wheels start to fall apart. A win against Georgia could get the Tigers back on track and give them confidence before another road test at Florida. If they can win two of their first three conference games against the upper echelon teams in the East, they have a chance to make another run and contend for the title.
3dSam Khan and Greg Ostendorf