SDS kicks off a series looking in-depth at teams and their biggest subplots heading into 2014. Next up: Missouri Tigers.

SEC Subplots 2014:

1. Chip on the shoulder
Nobody really thinks Mizzou can win the SEC East again, right? After all, didn’t they catch all the breaks last year with banged up teams against Georgia and Florida? That’s the consensus around the southeast, and really, the college football universe. Yes, the AP Preseason Top 25 ranked Mizzou in the top 25, but in reality nobody really expects the Tigers to compete again. After losing their top three receivers, left tackle, book-end defensive ends, leading linebacker and three secondary starters, many are discounting Mizzou before the season ever begins. That motivates the players, and now they know they can compete with the Floridas, Georgias and South Carolinas of the world, and they embrace the chatter.

2. Favorable schedule
Mizzou may have the SEC’s most favorable schedule. The Tigers play an SEC-low three preseason ranked opponents in South Carolina, Georgia and Texas A&M, and only one Power Five conference opponent in Indiana appears on the non-conference schedule. The Tigers also draw Arkansas from the West in a new cross-divisional rivalry. Overall, Missouri has the perfect schedule to make another run to Atlanta.

3. New faces
Maty Mauk leads the Tigers’ offense this season, aided in part by a new trio at wide receiver in Bud Sasser, Darius White and Jimmie Hunt. Russell Hansbrough takes over for Henry Josey in the backfield. It’s a completely new-look offense, but the one constant is terrific offensive line play. Center Evan Boehm is a beast, and Mitch Morse and Connor McGovern are veterans. Mauk could be an emerging star, and he, like MSU QB Dak Prescott, hasn’t really played enough to really tell if the hype is warranted. The Tigers’ offense should be very good again.

4. Elite defensive line
Just because Michael Sam and Kony Ealy are both playing on Sundays doesn’t mean the Tigers aren’t going to reload along the defensive line. Shane Ray and Markus Golden take over the vacant end spots, while tackle Lucas Vincent could be an All-SEC tackle type talent. Matt Hoch also returns at tackle, and Josh Augusta is a backup who will provide really nice depth. But watch out for redshirt freshman Charles Harris, another under-the-radar prospect who could make some serious noise at defensive end. The Tigers’ defensive line should be nasty again. Now, if they can find the right pieces in the secondary, the defense could be very good again.

SDS Takeaway: The SEC East is a four-team race on the outset. Georgia and South Carolina are figured to make the most noise, while Florida and Missouri are viewed as more dark-horse contenders. Mizzou is right in the thick of defending their SEC East crown, and with one of the most favorable schedules, the Tigers could surprise everyone again.