- Associated Press - Tuesday, August 12, 2014

COLUMBIA, Mo. (AP) - It’s a new year and the same old story at Missouri, coming off a 12-win season and once again lightly regarded. Time to show ‘em all - again.

Getting picked to finish fourth in the Eastern Division should serve as motivation for a program being marked down because of the long list of players who have departed.

“We’re guys trying to prove ourselves,” offensive tackle Mitch Morse said. “I personally like coming from behind, I enjoy it.”

Nine players are in NFL camps, including first-round pick Kony Ealy, second-rounder Justin Britt and SEC co-defensive player of the year Michael Sam.

Coach Gary Pinkel points out before that stinker of a 5-7 debut in the Southeastern Conference that was sabotaged by key injuries, the Tigers had played in seven consecutive bowl games. Though there are nine returning starters, seven others have starting experience and both specialists are back.

Quarterback Maty Mauk is back after going 3-1 in the SEC when James Franklin was injured. He had 11 touchdown passes and just two interceptions. Tailbacks Russell Hansbrough and Marcus Murphy combined for 1,286 yards and 13 touchdowns last season behind Henry Josey,

Guard Anthony Gatti and cornerback Aarion Penton had two starts apiece and Ian Simon made seven starts as the fifth defensive back.

“We’ve got a lot of guys who played a lot last year,” Pinkel said. “We’ve got a much more experienced team than I think it might appear.”

Five things to watch at Missouri this season:

HE’S NO. 1: Missouri washed out the bad taste from its defensive collapse in the SEC championship game by beating Oklahoma State in the Cotton Bowl. Pinkel passed Don Faurot for first on the school’s career win list and is 102-63 in 13 seasons with the Tigers. Twice, Pinkel has led Missouri to school-record 12-win seasons.

RECEIVING LINE: Marcus Lucas, L’Damian Washington and Dorial Green-Beckham combined for 167 catches and 25 touchdowns last season and all must be replaced, the first two because they ran out of eligibility and the third because he was kicked off the team this spring and is now at Oklahoma. That means it’s time to step up for wide receivers Bud Sasser, who had 26 catches, and Jimmie Hunt, who had 22. Senior Darius White, a Texas transfer who caught seven passes, also is expected to start.

Pinkel has told incoming freshmen they could be in line to contribute right away, too.

“It can be a walk-on guy, we don’t really care who it is,” Sasser said. “You’ve got to let them know they’ve got a good chance, especially right now.”

The returning cast is already down one. Sophomore Levi Copeland was suspended for the season and loses a year of eligibility for using a supplement banned by the NCAA that Pinkel said was purchased at a “supplement store at the mall.”

ON THE LINE: Senior Markus Golden is the rare junior college transfer that Pinkel has named a team captain, and leads a pass rush moving on without Sam and Ealy. Golden led defensive linemen in tackles and had 6 1-2 sacks. Junior Shane Ray also was a major contributor in the rotation with 4 1-2 sacks.

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