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Missouri Closing in on Unlikely Back-to-Back East Division Titles

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A year ago, Missouri shocked the college football world by winning the SEC East title — and doing so in dominant fashion. The Tigers won their seven league games by an average of 21.0 points, with only one game decided by less than 10 points. And their only loss came in double-overtime to South Carolina in a game in which they led 17–0 entering the fourth quarter.

Clearly, the 2013 Missouri Tigers were an elite team.

The 2014 Tigers? That’s a difficult question. The standings tell us they are one win away from winning the East yet again, but there is no denying this team is not nearly as formidable.

The Tigers’ wins have come by an average of 10.8 points, a number skewed by a 42­–13 victory over Florida in which they gained only 119 yards of offense and averaged an astoundingly low 2.4 yards per play. The other five wins have been by 10 points or less — and none has come against a team with a winning record in SEC play.

But the goal in football is to win the game, and the Tigers — despite some offensive limitations — have done that six times in seven conference games and are one win away from a second straight trip to the SEC Championship Game.

The key to Missouri’s success has been a defense that is allowing a league-low 4.19 yards per play against SEC opponents. The Tigers have 25 sacks in seven conference games and have forced 11 turnovers in their last five games.

In Saturday’s win at Tennessee, Missouri limited Tennessee to 279 total yards, including only 53 on the ground. In the Vols’ previous two games — wins over South Carolina and Kentucky — they averaged 578 total yards.

Missouri’s schedule has been kind — the Tigers won’t play any of the four SEC West teams with a winning league record — but this program deserves credit for finding ways to win, especially on the road. The Tigers have won eight straight SEC games away from home, including four this season in very difficult environments — South Carolina, Florida, Texas A&M and Tennessee.

The Tigers now return home to face one of the hottest teams in the nation, Arkansas. The Razorbacks have won two straight games, beating LSU and Ole Miss by a combined score of 47–0. A victory will send Mizzou back to Atlanta. The red-hot Hogs will be a popular pick, but Missouri has made a habit of defying the odds.