The biggest reason to question Missouri's ability to defend its SEC East championship this season is the same one that stumped me as I sat down to write this post and confronted the issue of who to put down as Mizzou's biggest loss. After all, this is a team losing its top passer by yardage, leading rusher, top two receivers, seven of its 11 most prolific tacklers, the No. 1 and No. 2 players in terms of sacks and its leader in interceptions. That is a breathtaking amount of talent to leave any team, much less a contender.
All of the other serious contenders in the SEC East, save maybe the Florida team that went 4-8 last year, are also losing some of their best players this season. It happens in college football. But none of them are losing quite as much on both sides of the ball as Missouri. That doesn't mean that the other other Tigers are out of the race for the division before it's begun; it just means that the roster might be a bigger obstacle for Missouri than its opponents even in a year when the division is saying a good deal of turnover.
BIGGEST RETURN | DE Markus Golden
According to the Missouri media guide, Golden played approximately 40 percent of the Tigers' snaps in 2014. This is in a season where Golden had 6.5 sacks, 13 tackles for loss and a total of 55 tackles -- the third-highest number among the returning defensive starters this year. Golden's value is even higher than it might otherwise have been because he'll be taking over at a position where Mizzou lost two players to the draft: SEC Defensive Player of the Year Michael Sam and Kony Ealy. Golden already seems to have proven that he'll be up for the task.
BIGGEST LOSSES | WRs L'Damian Washington and Dorial Green-Beckham
As mentioned above, this was the hardest of the selections to make for this post. Between these two departures, the Tigers are losing players who in 2013 contributed 109 catches for 1,776 yards and 22 touchdowns. The expected loss of Washington might not have been a huge blow had Green-Beckham not earned a dismissal from the team in the offseason. Now, the top returning receiver is Bud Sasser, who had 26 catches in 2013 for 361 yards and a touchdown. Either Sasser or someone else is going to have to step up in a big way if Missouri is going to be successful in 2014.
BREAKTHROUGH POSSIBILITY | QB Maty Mauk
Everyone remembers Mauktober, but let's tap the brakes just a bit. The now-sophomore completed just 51 percent of his passes in 2013, even though the other numbers (1,071 yards, 11 touchdowns, two interceptions) look very good. There's no reasonable way to argue with the idea that Mauk is talented, and he will probably be a solid SEC starter sooner rather than later. But he still hasn't started an entire college football season, so his breakthrough is still more of a projection than a fact. And with a thin receiving corps and a schedule that dictates that Missouri's SEC East hopes will either be cemented or dashed by mid-October, he's going to have to grow into the full-time starter job pretty quickly.