In preparation for the 2014 college football season, Saturday Down South takes a look at the X factor for every SEC team. Not only do these players have the opportunity to make major contributions for their respective squads, but they could also be the difference in a successful season or a losing season.

Today, we’re discussing the X factor for the Missouri Tigers

X-factor series:

RB Russell Hansbrough

In just the team’s second season in the SEC, the Missouri Tigers shocked the conference by rolling through their 2013 schedule with a 12-2 record, including a berth in the SEC Championship game. However, it could be a different season for Missouri due to a lot of question marks after several key players, especially on defense, have departed for the NFL.

Among those question marks is at the running back position. Henry Josey completed his final season with 1,116 rushing yards and 16 touchdowns and was a huge part of the 2013 success for the Tigers. Now, as Missouri searches for Josey’s replacement, junior running back Russell Hansbrough has stood out from the pack.

Hansbrough, who shined in the first four games of last season with 335 yards and three touchdowns, is a powerful presence in the backfield. At only 5-foot-9, 190-pounds, Hansbrough is smaller than your average starting back in the SEC, but he packs a punch and hits the running lanes quick and hard. During Hansbrough’s impressive four-game stretch, he averaged just over nine yards a carry and was able to churn out the big plays for the Tigers’ offense.

After receiving the second-most carries in 2013, Hansbrough is expected to receive the lion’s share of the carries this season. He’ll be backed up by Marcus Murphy and Morgan Steward. Both Murphy and Stewart are impressive athletes in their own right, but it’s Hansbrough’s job to lose.

Behind an experienced offensive line, Hansbrough will be given every opportunity to breakout and emerge as one of the conference’s best running backs. Missouri’s ability to develop a reliable and physical running game will help take the pressure off new starting quarterback Maty Mauk and remain at the top of the SEC East.