“That’s fine, coach, but I’m from Missouri.”

Except Kevin Burnett was born in Inglewood, which is just outside of Los Angeles. For those not geographically inclined, that’s six states and about 26 hours of driving from Columbia, Mo.

The reference to the Show Me State was poignant, even though it was subversive. Burnett, a starter at linebacker for San Diego, wasn’t too keen on special teams reps. When he grunted those seven words, the Chargers’ special teams coach wanted the team to redo a kick coverage drill as part of a closed practice in 2010.

The team finished first in the NFL in offense and defense, but missed the playoffs due to by some metrics the worst special teams in NFL history. It was a remarkable thing.

The anecdote is relevant in this space as it relates to the perception of the Missouri Tigers football team in 2014. Sports is full of talk, but respect comes through results — consistent ones.

I’ve followed the program a fair amount, particularly last season during the thriller of a race in the SEC East. The team deserved its 12 wins and Top 5 finish. Missouri had legitimate ability and depth on both sides of the ball.

When I began digging deeper into Missouri after accepting the job as the team’s beat writer for this website, I noticed that the comments on most of the stories are scattered with Tigers fans who are either overprotective in a “we do belong” kind of way or a bit hacked off at the lack of respect entering the 2014 season.

It’s unfair to classify the entire fan base as defensive and defiant based on online comments, which generally don’t indicate much beyond broadcasting the opinions of a vocal, sometimes extreme minority. But I do think there’s some substance to this one.

I’m also not a psychologist, but, generally speaking, if someone aggressively insists that they don’t care what someone else thinks, a lot of times it means the opposite. If I don’t care, I don’t care. I don’t go out of my way to prove how little I care.

With that in mind, here’s what coach Gary Pinkel had to say at SEC Media Days when asked if winning the SEC East vindicated his program against questions of whether it could compete for championships in its new conference: “I don’t get into what’s said or what’s predicted. Someone apologized to me a little while ago the way they voted (in the 2013 media preseason poll). I said, I don’t know how you voted for us. I don’t really care.”

Pinkel’s answer revealed a bit more around the fringes at the beginning and end. To paraphrase, he said:

1. I want people to respect Missouri football.
2. The only way to make sure that happens is to keep winning.

No, the Tigers aren’t getting a ton of love from preseason prognostications. The SEC media, which picked Missouri to finish fifth in the East in its preseason poll last year only to have the team win the division, slotted them fourth this year. That’s behind Florida, a team the Tigers whipped, 36-17, a season ago in Maty Mauk’s first career start. That same Gators team failed to win a game the rest of the season.

For those interested, Athlon Sports is the only major publication to include Missouri in its Top 25. As the last team. Lindy’s Sports, SportingNews, USA Today and Phil Steele all left the Tigers out of their respective preseason Top 25.

To the Missouri fan, it’s a slight, and understandably so.

“Anybody who says they know who’s going to win the East is out of their mind,” esteemed Sports Illustrated analyst Andy Stapes said in an interview with Saturday Down South.

Why, then, despite the lack of an obvious choice, is no major publication picking the Tigers, the defending champions, to even finish in the top two, spots lock-jawed by South Carolina and Georgia?

From another perspective, though, the phrase “regression to the mean” comes to mind. Can Missouri win 12 games again this season? Sure. It’s possible. But according to objective, reasoned analysis, it’s not likely. Alabama doesn’t win 12 games a year. No SEC team does.

The Tigers were equally as likely to “regress” to the mean by winning more games last year after an injury-marred 2013 season. Games against the Gamecocks, Bulldogs and Gators loom large, and Missouri will be every bit in the thick of the SEC East race by winning two of those three.

The reality is that the media and sources outside of Missouri actually have the Tigers rated more realistically headed into this season than they have in either of the team’s lone years in the SEC. That’s not to say the Tigers definitely will be a fringe Top 25 team on the border between true SEC East contender and mid-pack finisher. But that’s a pretty fair and balanced expectation to hold.

If the Tigers finish in the top three in the division and win nine or 10 games again this season, Missouri fans, you’ll no longer have to stump for your program. The Tigers already gained heaps of respect in the last 12 months, not only for how the program performed, but for its handling of Michael Sam’s announcement, the way Pinkel dealt with shaky job security and the no-nonsense approach in dismissing one of its most important players in Dorial Green-Beckham.

There’s nothing wrong with holding strong and favorable opinions about your program. That’s part of what “fan” means.

But for those residing in the Show Me State, 2014 is a big season. People aren’t quite sure what to make of the program going forward. Are the Tigers a five-win team in the SEC, but happened to catch a number of breaks last year? Are they now an annual 10 to 12-win team on par with the best programs in the country and getting disrespected in a major way?

The real answer probably falls in between. But, just like the state motto, don’t fret. Starting on Aug. 30 against South Dakota State, Missouri will show all of us just what it is.