There must be something in the water in Columbia, Missouri, because the Mizzou Tigers have begun producing freakishly talented defensive lineman at an alarming, almost unrealistic rate in recent years.

First came Aldon Smith, who set a school record with 11.5 sacks in 2009 when the Tigers still competed in the Big 12. Smith is now one of the premier pass rushers in the NFL, and when he left Mizzou it felt like the Tigers were moving on from a once-in-a-generation talent along the defensive line.

That feeling didn’t last long, however, as Michael Sam and Kony Ealy stepped in and helped Tigers fans forget what they were missing without Smith. Sam would go on to tie Smith’s sack record in 2013 on his way to SEC Defensive Player of the Year honors, and he and Ealy would both join Smith in the NFL following that season.

Having a player like Smith is a blessing, and replacing him with two more players just as talented is almost unheard of. With both Sam and Ealy out of the picture, one had to figure the Tigers’ luck had run out when it came to producing top-flight pass rushers.

But that notion was proven foolish upon the arrival of Shane Ray and Markus Golden in this year’s starting lineup.

Ray and Golden were both stashed on Missouri’s bench last season, but this season they’ve been the best defensive end tandem in the SEC by a wide margin, and perhaps the best tandem in the nation. It’s been two weeks since Ray broke Smith and Sam’s school record with his 12th sack of the season (he’s now at 13.5), and Golden isn’t far behind with 8.5 so far this year.

Together, the pairing leads all SEC duos in sacks with 22, both ranking in the top 20 nationally in sacks this season. They also lead all SEC duos in tackles for loss with 33.5. The numbers say the tandem is the best in the conference, and Missouri’s standing atop the SEC East reinforces that claim.

So let’s take an even broader look at the dynamic duo. Are they the best pair of defensive ends in the nation? Can anyone stack up against Missouri’s newest pass rushing freaks?

Only two other tandems in the nation have more sacks than Ray and Golden in 2014: Utah’s Nate Orchard and Hunter Dimick (27.5), and Washington’s Hau’oli Kikaha and Andrew Hudson (26.5). A different Washington tandem — Kikaha and Danny Shelton — leads the nation in tackles for loss with 39.5 this season, and that tandem and Utah’s pairing of Orchard and Dimick are the only duos with more tackles behind the line than Ray and Golden this season.

Team Players Total Sacks
1. Utah Nate Orchard and Hunter Dimick 27.5
2. Washington Hau’oli Kikaha and Andrew Hudson 26.5
3. Missouri Shane Ray and Markus Golden 22.0
Team Players Total Tackles for Loss
1. Washington Kikaha and Danny Sheldon 39.5
2. Utah Orchard and Dimick 34.5
3. Missouri Ray and Golden 33.5

As far as the numbers are concerned, the Huskies and Utes both claim better pass rushing duos than Missouri this season. But while numbers never lie, they also don’t necessarily tell a complete story.

Six PAC 12 schools rank 90th or worse out of 128 FBS teams in sacks allowed this season, compared to just two teams from the SEC (Kentucky and Tennessee). Likewise, five SEC teams rank in the top 30 in the nation in fewest sacks allowed, compared to zero teams from the PAC 12.

This isn’t to say the numbers by Washington and Utah’s duos should be discredited. But when deciphering between the best pass rushing duos in the entire nation this season, one is forced to split hairs. And upon splitting the hairs of this debate, it appears Ray and Golden are producing marginally inferior numbers against noticeably stiffer competition in the trenches.

It’s also worth noting both Ray and Golden have vaulted to their impressive numbers less than a year removed from riding the Missouri bench during its 2013 run to the SEC East title. Both players have had to learn the roles of every-down starters on the fly in 2014, while Kikaha and Hudson each had a year of starting experience under their belts and Orchard had two. This doesn’t necessarily determine whether one tandem is better than the other, but it certainly makes Ray and Golden’s accomplishments look more impressive.

Ultimately, that’s what this discussion comes down to — not which tandem is better, but rather which tandem has been more impressive in 2014. All the aforementioned players (Ray, Golden, Kikaha, Hudson, Shelton, Orchard and Dimick) are likely to be playing on Sundays sooner than later. They’re all incredible talents, and calling one better than the other would be like calling cake better than pie — naming one better than the other is a matter of opinion, but we all agree both are really good.

However, it’s almost inarguable that what Ray and Golden have done this season is more impressive than the accomplishments of any other pass rushing duo in the nation. Their rise from anonymity to the top of the SEC (a conference known for great defenses) is among the most remarkable storylines in all of college football.

Missouri has quietly become a modern day pass rushing factory in college football, and once again the Tigers have produced the most electrifying defensive end tandem in the nation.