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RBR previews the Missouri offense

It's what you think, but not really.

Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

1. South Carolina
2. Georgia
3. Florida
4. Missouri

That, RBR faithful, is what the preseason SEC East picks were at SEC Media Days in August. The defending SEC champs - who were a missed field goal from being undefeated in 2013 - were picked to repeat by exactly no one who covers the conference*.

* - In fairness, the writers did pick Alabama in the West. Because that required a lot of brainpower.

We can, of course, quibble about Missouri's means of making it to the Dome for a second straight season. The Tigers took advantage of a weak division - specifically, the Georgia team that throttled them in October repaid them a few weeks later by embarrassing themselves vs. the unraveling Florida Gators - and a soft crossover schedule as well (their league opponents finished with a collective 17-39 record).

Even if the East is a scrap heap, though, it's only fair to credit the Tigers for finishing the season on top. Specifically, Missouri needed two victories vs. Western division opponents - at Texas A&M, at home vs. a surging Arkansas team - plus a visit to Tennessee and gutted them all out. They earned their spot, criticisms be damned.

Anyway, here's their offense.

Coaching

You'll almost certainly hear the name Don James on multiple occasions during the run-up to the SEC title game this season. James, who died in October 2013, coached both of the patriarchs in this week's title game - Alabama's Nick Saban and Missouri's Gary Pinkel - at Kent State in the early 1970s, and gave both jobs as graduate assistants after that. Pinkel spent 17 years with James, including a stint as offensive coordinator at Washington from 1984-1990.

Pinkel is now in his 14th season at Mizzou, making him one of the two longest tenured head coaches in the SEC (the other is UGA's Mark Richt). His program didn't really hit its stride until 2007, when a Chase Daniel led squad finished 12-2* and within an eyelash of the national championship. Since then, the Tigers have notched double-digit wins four times.

* - Both losses were to Oklahoma.

Now  ... discussing Missouri's offense is one of those narratives that helps divide people who actually pay attention to football, and people who do not. Conjure an image of Missouri's program, and it's probably of receivers spread all over the field, Daniel throwing to Jeremy Maclin, and the Tigers winning high-scoring, high-stakes showdowns in the Big XII.

Mizzou isn't that type of squad though, and hasn't been for several years. The Tigers certainly still run their own version of the Air Raid, with receivers spread from one side of the field to the other - it's just that they haven't been an offensive force. Since 2010, Bill Connelly - a Mizzou alum who writes about his alma mater more than any other school - has ranked the Tigers' offense 17th, 34th, 85th and 17th in Offensive F/+. This season, Mizzou ranks 65th nationally in Offensive F/+, and is 11th in the Southeastern Conference in total offense. They have exceeded the 30-point mark only twice all season - in wins over Florida and A&M, and the Florida win was an atrocity for the offense (Mizzou won due to return TDs in the kicking game and defense).

Quarterback

The spread passing game, obviously, revolves around the quarterback, and the Tigers' offense belongs to Maty Mauk, who started four games in 2013 in place of the injured James Franklin, and has started every game for them in 2014.

Mauk's performance has been ... OK? I guess? He currently boasts a passer rating of 120, completes under 54 percent of his throws and averages just under 190 yards per game. His 22-11 TD-INT ratio is just fine, as well.

Here's what you can definitely say about Mauk: He has, for the most part, been exactly as good as necessary. He threw for 250 yards at A&M, threw two fourth-quarter touchdowns at Tennessee and engineered two scoring drives late against the Hogs, with the division on the line. Missouri wouldn't be where it is now without Mauk; don't let anyone tell you different.

Skill players

Against Arkansas, the Tigers got a huge performance in the fourth quarter from tailbacks Russell Hansbrough and Marcus Murphy, who finished the Hogs with 12 carries for 85 yards. Ultimately, Murphy scored the go-ahead TD. Coming into Saturday's game, the two backs average 5.4 and 4.7 yards per rush, respectively, and combine for 141 yards per game. As of this writing, Hansbrough's status is in question due to a sprained ankle, though he is expected to play.

Missouri, naturally, will spread receivers across the field with multiple catches in 2014. The leader is Bud Sasser, averaging nearly 14 yards per catch, with 9 touchdowns; Jimmie Hunt averages nearly 16 yards per catch, with 7 TDs; Darius White boasts a 12.2 average per catch, with 4 TDs.

Admittedly, those aren't overly impressive stats - there isn't a single receiver with numbers that jump off the page, nor physical attributes like, say, Duke Williams or Sammie Coates*, that suggest Alabama might need to think about bringing a shotgun to slow them down.

* - Or, say, Dorial Green-Beckham.

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As with last week's adventure against Auburn, I expect Missouri to move the ball and score points, particularly early in the game (as the Tide secondary struggles to recover from Auburn-related PTSD). But the bottom line for this game, like the others, hasn't changed: Alabama's is the better team, and should be able to make enough plays on defense to give its team a chance to win.

Hope for the best.