HOOVER, Ala. - Missouri players wore shiny SEC East championship rings Wednesday at the conference's football media days. But the lone blemish on the Tigers' unexpected regular-season run to Atlanta still smarts.
Missouri's 27-24, double-overtime loss to South Carolina last October happened on the same night the Gamecocks trailed 17-0 - in the fourth quarter. Then Connor Shaw came off the bench and authored the greatest degree-of-difficulty comeback in program history.
"The one thing I remember about it was walking off the field and them rushing on the field," Missouri defensive end Markus Golden said Wednesday. "I'll never forget how when they won, they ran on our field. They ran all over our field."
It didn't really cost Missouri. The Tigers, like Georgia in 2011 and 2012, won the SEC East despite losing to South Carolina.
It's more about respect, something the SEC East's stepchild still craves even after a 12-2 season capped by a Cotton Bowl victory over Oklahoma State.
Missouri gets a shot at revenge on Sept. 27 at Williams-Brice Stadium.
"We're looking forward to it," Golden said. "They came to our house and took one home. It's great that we have the chance to go to their house and bring one home this year."
With four non-conference games to start the season, the trip to another Columbia is Missouri's first SEC game of 2014 (South Carolina will have already played Texas A&M, Georgia and Vanderbilt).
It's a showcase way for Missouri to solicit appreciation, which the Tigers clearly still lack around the SEC.
They had to answer questions about their conference worthiness in 2012.
They were picked sixth (ahead of only Kentucky) in SEC East in the SEC Media Days preseason poll.
Mauk and Manziel
The defending champs probably will come in well behind South Carolina and Georgia in the 2014 poll due Thursday. For good reason: Missouri lost 15 starters, including four players picked in the NFL draft - tackle Justin Britt (second round, Seahawks), defensive end Kony Early (second round, Panthers), cornerback E.J. Gaines (fourth round, Rams) and defensive end Michael Sam (seventh round, Rams).
Star wide receiver Dorial Green-Beckham was kicked out of school after a pair of drug incidents and transferred to Oklahoma.
"We don't have anybody like that," sophomore quarterback Matty Mauk said of Green-Beckham. "A player like that doesn't come around very often. But I have confidence in the players we have."
Mauk likes his own skills, too, even making a comparison to former Texas A&M Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel.
"He could turn anything into a big play, and that's why I watch him on film," said Mauk, who started the South Carolina game and three others while subbing for injured James Franklin. "I feel like I have the ability to do similar things, and that's what people are expecting of me back in Columbia."
To aid Mauk, Missouri coach Gary Pinkel will rely on an overlooked college football staple.
"I think our player development program is second to none," said Pinkel, in his 14th season as the Tigers' head coach.
It might work with a schedule that starts with the South Dakota State Jackrabbits and a road game at Toledo, where Pinkel coached for 10 years before coming to Missouri. Then comes home games against Central Florida and Indiana.
The real test comes at South Carolina, sure to stir 2013 nightmares.
"We did some things we should have done a lot better," Mauk said of the double-overtime loss. "As a quarterback, there were a lot of things we could have done that I didn't do. It was a real big learning tool; I learned a lot that game.
"And now when we go down there this year, hopefully it's going to be a little bit different and we're going to know what to expect: When you get up, you don't stop. You go."
Even if Missouri gets ahead 17-0 and Connor Shaw is wearing Cleveland Browns gear.
Follow Gene Sapakoff on Twitter @sapakoff
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