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SEC Football Preview 2014: Missouri Tries to Defend Its SEC East Title in the First Two Months

Mizzou should know before anyone goes trick-or-treating whether a second consecutive trip to Atlanta is even a realistic possibility

Dak Dillon-USA TODAY Sports

Here's the thing about Missouri's schedule this year: Unlike a lot of SEC teams, the Tigers will play all of their out-of-conference games to start the season. But even so, they'll still know relatively early whether a return trip to Atlanta is a reasonable goal. By Oct. 18, Mizzou will have either loudly declared that 2013 was no one-time wonder or played itself out of the division. November might be the easiest month on the schedule -- relatively speaking -- but the Tigers have to get there without too many losses to take full advantage of the drop-off.

A trip outside the conference, a trip for revenge. Missouri warms up with a game against South Dakota State and then a trip to Toledo. No, you're not reading that wrong. Listen, good for the mid-major teams who are pushing Power 5 teams to play at their stadiums -- but if a Power 5 team is going to have to travel for part of the series, it ought to give the fans the satisfaction of playing a Power 5 opponent. After that comes a tricky game against UCF, though the Golden Knights are not quite the team that won the Fiesta Bowl last season. The non-conference slate wraps up with Indiana, a team Missouri has played 11 times, more times than it has faced any SEC team other than Texas A&M. Then it's off to the other Columbia, to face the only team that beat the Tigers in the regular season last year. It's a relatively rough September for a month that features just one SEC game.

The rest of the East. Things don't get much easier for the Tigers in October -- the month that will essentially decide whether Missouri can defend its division title or will spend the rest of the season jockeying for bowl position. A bye after the trip to South Carolina, then a game against Georgia and another trip, this one to Gainesville, and Missouri has played the three teams most likely to win the East in the space of a month. Will we finally get a Missouri-Georgia game in the SEC with a margin of less than 15 points? In any case, the Vanderbilt game caps off the month and means that Mizzou has already played four of its six divisional opponents.

Rivals -- old and new. Missouri carpet-bombed Kentucky last year and shouldn't have much more trouble with the Wildcats this year. And in its final edition for quite some time, the Mizzou-A&M game returns to its traditional setting of College Station; by the time this one's over, four of the last five games between A&M and Missouri will have been played at Kyle Field. (Blame scheduling issues caused by Nebraska bolted the Big XII and, of course, the Aggies and the Tigers following suit.) Aside from Kentucky, Tennessee is the only other team that Missouri is 2-for-2 against since joining the SEC. The regular season ends with the new interdivision rivals for Missouri in the form of Arkansas; with LSU serving as Texas A&M's Thanksgiving Day opponent, Mizzou will become the brand of Tigers that the Razorbacks will face on the day after Turkey Day.