At this time last year, nobody, not even the most faithful of True Sons, believe the Missouri Tigers would achieve as much as they did in 2013. The team that was picked to finish second-to-last in the 'weaker' half of the conference wound up not only winning the SEC, but also the Cotton Bowl, the most prestigious bowl victory earned by an SEC team in December and January. Nobody anticipated that. Nobody thought the Tigers would beat Georgia in Stamford Stadium in the preseason. Nobody thought Michael Sam would be the SEC Defensive Player of the year. Nobody anticipated anything Mizzou accomplished last year.
Nobody, except for the Tigers themselves.
Remember when L'Damian Washington was the laughing stock of last July's SEC Media Days after suggesting that Mizzou could win 11 games in 2013? That's still the only time I can recall the media laughing at and to an athlete or coach's face after they made a comment that was completely serious. Goes to show how little respect Mizzou had around the league prior to their 12-2 2013 campaign.
It's all good, we all know who got the last laugh anyway.
With 2013 in the books, the Tigers are entering arguably the most important season in program history in 2014. If Mizzou wants to go where it has never gone before and become a national football power, this is the year to take that next step and make that statement.
What is success, especially in college football, if it is not maintained and consistent? What is the value of one good season if it is followed up by failure and disappointment? What is the point of yesterday if it doesn't lead to a better tomorrow?
I'm not saying Mizzou has to return to Atlanta, but they still need to prove they can win year-after-year in the SEC. Given the amount of production and talent to replace in 2014, putting together a 9 or 10-win season this year would be a tremendous accomplishment and enable the Tigers of the Show Me State to go a level the program has never been to before.
Such a season, especially if it included a return trip to the Georgia Dome, would make a resounding statement as the Tigers would prove that they can maintain a high-level of success, reload without having to rebuild, and become a national football brand. The SEC East would be as competitive as the SEC West with four legitimate SEC Champion contenders as Tennessee and Kentucky continue to build and improve. Recently expanded Faurot Field would become 'The Jungle of Misery' with a more substantial home-field advantage due to a louder, more intense crowd and an atmosphere with an increased boost of electricity. Mizzou would then be a team that more and more non-fans of the program would want to watch, therefore resulting in more national television appearances, which would generate more positive exposure between games and lead to more mornings hosting College Gameday and afternoons playing on CBS.
This amount of attention, in addition to the greater number of apparel sales, the ability to sell a larger quantity of tickets at higher quality prices, and the SEC network deal, would then translate into a significant stream of revenue streaming into Columbia.
Yet, the biggest benefit of all would be the boost in recruiting. As the Midwestern school of the SEC with an established recruiting base in Texas that is currently building pipelines in Georgia and Florida, Mizzou has the potential to become a future dynasty. That's right, a dynasty. Think about it and look at how 2013 has already impacted the class of 2015. More than a huge geographic footprint, the Tigers also have a chance to build upon a reputation of producing top-notch collegiate and NFL talent at certain positions such as at quarterback, defensive line, and wide receiver.
Say Matty Mauk has a great season without DGB. He would not only be extend the long line of successful Mizzou QBs that began with Brad Smith, but also become a potential connection into his home state of Ohio. If that were to happen, that would mean Mizzou would be able to competitively recruit in the top three recruiting states of Texas, Ohio, and Florida. With a sold DE combo returning in 2014, the Tigers could begin to further build upon their reputation as 'D-Line U'. If Bud Sasser, Jimmie Hunt produce this year and Nate Brown does so in the years to come, then the University of Missouri becomes that much more attractive to high quality receivers around the country, especially if Washington and Lucas go on to have big NFL careers. Not to mention the impact of Evan Boehm and Andy Bauer as both nationally recognized linemen prospects and Show Me State natives.
Thus, not only will Missouri continue to sign top in-state recruits and build pipelines across the country, but also strengthen its ability to produce explosive offenses and establish itself as the toughest line of scrimmage in "a line of scrimmage league". This would, in theory anyway, lead to signing high profile recruits at other positions and ultimately lead to a bright future with offseason after offseason of excitement. Yes, Gary Pinkel has been great at developing players, but now that process would become quicker and more efficient which would create more competition within the roster, something him and all great coaches know is key to creating a strong program.
Don't forget to mention the message Mizzou made as a team in supporting Michael Sam. They personified what it mean to be more than just a team, but a family where everyone is there for each other and the greater common goal of winning football games. This, along with the dismissal of DGB, illustrated how special it is to be a Tiger and the amount of pride members of the team have. That can only add to recruiting, especially as an influence when talking to the parents of prospects.
That is why 2014 is so significant. If the Tigers do well again this year, then we'll be referring to 2013 not only as the first year Mizzou won the SEC East, but also, the first year of the Mizzou Golden Era. With a lot of question marks and departed talent around the rest of the SEC East, there's a very real possibility the Tigers could return to Atlanta in 2014. Even if they don't, they're still going to be competitive this year and barring a disaster, will continue to be competitive for years to come.