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Ranking the Toughest Games on Missouri's College Football Schedule in 2015

Author:
Russell Hansbrough

Russell Hansbrough

Missouri enters the 2015 season with little hype, despite coming off back-to-back SEC East division titles. Head coach Gary Pinkel's Tigers were selected to finish third in the East and didn't receive a single vote for eventual SEC champion when polling was conducted during SEC Media Days.

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But that's nothing new for Missouri, which surprised many by edging out Georgia to win the division in 2014, despite being picked fourth at the outset. Still, the Tigers must first survive a tough SEC schedule in order to finish atop the East standings for the third consecutive season.

Here now are Missouri's 12 regular season games, ranked from easiest to most difficult matchup.

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12. Sept. 5 vs. Southeast Missouri State

No surprise here, the Tigers will open their season with a tune-up game against in-state opponent Southeast Missouri State. This kicks off a stretch of three consecutive non-conference matchups before beginning SEC play.

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11. Sept. 19 vs. UConn

Once again, the Tigers have an easy September slate against non-conference before entering SEC play. UConn should be an easy victory that should help Missouri finds its groove before the going gets considerably tougher.

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10. Sept. 12 at Arkansas State

Of Missouri's first three games, this matchup will be the most difficult. But despite Missouri's underrated offense, the Tigers should be able to open the season with a 3-0 record.

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9. Oct. 24 at Vanderbilt

Vanderbilt should be a more competitive team in Derek Mason's second season. But there are just too many unanswered questions on offense to match up favorably against a Missouri defense that still has veteran talent even in the absence of Shane Ray, Markus Golden and an injured Harold Brantley.

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8. Sept. 26 at Kentucky

Like Vanderbilt, Kentucky enters its season as one of two SEC teams that didn't play in a bowl game in 2014. But the Wildcats were far more competitive and started out 5-1 before suffering a six-game losing streak to finish at 5-7. The road matchup does create an advantage for Kentucky, but like the Commodores, it’s too soon to expect anything less than a loss to a capable SEC opponent.

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7. Oct. 3 vs. South Carolina

While many SEC East teams are trending upward, South Carolina is a team on the decline. Steve Spurrier's recruiting negligence saw the program lose many of its early commitments, resulting in a ninth-place finish among conference peers. Aside from returning Pharoh Cooper, the Gamecocks' biggest fall camp storylines were improving the SEC's worst defensive line and deciding which inexperienced quarterback will replace Dylan Thompson.

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6. Oct. 10 vs. Florida

Florida hired Jim McElwain this offseason to improve one of the SEC's worst offenses. Though expectations are high, it will be a slow process in Gainesville that probably won’t measureable success for another season or two. Still, the Gators have enough talent to remain competitive against inferior competition and are capable of pulling off an upset. But Missouri should remain a favorite as the team still looks to figure out its identity before midseason.

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5. Nov. 14 vs. BYU

Here's where things get difficult. The Tigers should be able to secure bowl eligibility before November. This could carry momentum, which will be necessary as the team enters its most difficult stretch of games. Missouri hosts BYU one week after a tough matchup against Mississippi State. The Cougars are coming off three consecutive eight-win seasons while playing quality opponents as a FBS independent.

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4. Nov. 5 (Thursday) vs. Mississippi State

Following a winnable game against Vanderbilt and a bye week, Missouri faces Mississippi State, a team that finds itself in a similar situation entering 2015. Despite holding its only No. 1 overall ranking in program history for several weeks, the Bulldogs are an under-the-radar team after returning an SEC-low seven starters — four on offense and three on defense. Still, Mississippi State signed its highest-ranked class in program history including several top JUCO transfers and returns Heisman hopeful Dak Prescott.

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3. Nov. 27 at Arkansas

Arkansas finished last in the SEC West yet still managed to be one of the conference's top teams. In Bret Bielema's third season, many expect the Razorbacks to make a significant jump in the standings. Missouri will travel to Fayetteville for its final game of the regular season. The Razorbacks should be a tough road outing for the Tigers whether playing for bowl eligibility or contending in a tough SEC West.

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2. Nov. 21 vs. Tennessee

Tennessee managed to play a competitive game against Missouri in Neyland Stadium last season, despite a thin depth chart and inexperienced roster. In 2015, many expect the Volunteers to be a dark-horse contender and challenge Georgia for the SEC East division title. Tennessee will be an improved team and should provide a difficult matchup, despite playing on the road. The young Vols managed to work through a season of growing pains and should be ready to take another step in their rebuilding process.

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1. Oct. 17 at Georgia

Sandwiched between a home game against Florida and a favorable matchup at Vanderbilt is one of Missouri's most important games of 2015. Facing Georgia is already a difficult task, but the Tigers must do so at Sanford Stadium. Sophomore running back Nick Chubb looks to be the SEC's best player and the Bulldogs have a talented front seven to pressure Maty Mauk and contain Russell Hansbrough. But the home-field advantage creates even more of an edge for a Georgia team expected to end Missouri's two-year reign atop the SEC East.

— Written by Jason Hall, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and works for Fox Sports Florida. Follow him on Twitter @jasonhallFSN.