It was supposed to just be a dream season. In their second year in the Southeastern Conference, the 2013 Missouri Tigers turned heads with electric offensive play and a sack-happy defense, making an unprecedented and unexpected run to Atlanta for the SEC Championship Game. And sure, it went like, well, just about every other conference championship game that Mizzou has been involved with for the better part of the last seven years, but with their Cotton Bowl win, the Tigers wrapped a bow out of an incredibly successful season.
2014 was expected to be a different story. The team lost their terrific pass rushers in Kony Ealy and Michael Sam, the 2013 SEC Defensive Player of the Year. Gone were most of their offensive skill players: Henry Josey, L'Damian Washington, Marcus Lucas and Dorial Green-Beckham all departed Columbia, Missouri for one reason or another. James Franklin graduated, so Maty Mauk would be thrust into the spotlight. With Ealy and Sam gone, Shane Ray and Markus Golden were now given the task to pick up from where they left off. South Carolina and Georgia were expected to win the SEC East, with Missouri finishing either 3rd or 4th, hovering around eight to nine wins. The dream was expected to be just that. The past was the past. Missouri would be lost in the shuffle as they transitioned back to the mean.
(Some Missouri fans and students would take this as an insult. I would not)
And yet, here we stand once again, baffled by Missouri's incomprehensible way to win when everyone leaves them for dead.
We wondered how they would ever recover from a brutally embarrassing win in CoMO to the Indiana Hoosiers.
All scratched their heads when Maty Mauk's miserable struggles paved the way for the Georgia Bulldogs to pitch a shutout at Faurot Field.
South Carolina's stunning overtime victory drew parallels to this Georgia defeat. And here these two games stand now, juxtapositioned with each other, as missed opportunities for Missouri. But similarly, they would not be their downfall.
In 2013, the Gamecocks needed the Tigers to be defeated again to play for the SEC Championship. And with so much trouble on their mind, Mizzou refused to lose, racking up wins against Tennessee, Kentucky, Ole Miss and Texas A&M en route to their first appearance in Atlanta.
Flash forward a year later, and Georgia found themselves in the same position. After throwing heavy haymakers on the road, they put the reigning and defending champion on the ropes. They could've been contenders. But they looked like bums, and let's face it: that's what they appeared to be. But the champion rebounded off the ropes, and fiercely fought off the odds.
For the second straight season, backs against the wall, the Tigers ran the table: with wins against Florida, Vanderbilt, Kentucky, Texas A&M, Tennessee and a thrilling win against Arkansas in the finale, Missouri will once again be playing for the SEC Title.
What remains for this Missouri team is unknown. Saturday afternoon, they'll go up against titanous Alabama, and if the Tigers win, they may just cannibalize the SEC away from the first ever College Football Playoff. But no matter what, this road to Atlanta might be more wackier than the one that preceded it. And that's something no one could've expected.