Sadly, the Vols have never beaten Missouri on the football field. Sure they've only had three opportunities and Tennessee have been suffering through a historically low point for the 119-year program, but still, the zero in the win column against the longtime Big 12 team leaves a black mark that won't go away until the Tigers are conquered.
Most Tennessee fans are inundated by finally beating Florida and ending a 10-year streak that both exasperates the fan base and seems to mirror the darkest period of Volunteer football in the program's history, but Butch Jones and company should be just as concerned with beating the Gary Pinkel lead Missouri Tigers in 2015.
Like it or not, Mizzou is currently the gold standard in the East, not talent-rich Georgia, despite seemingly every year entering the season as East favorites only to annually suffer letdowns that cost them the division. In 2013, the Tigers flew completely under the radar as they were picked to finished sixth in the East by the SEC Media, before winning the division. In 2014, Mizzou was once again was picked against, as they were predicted to finish fourth in the East by the SEC Media and failed to receive one vote to win the SEC title, yet they won the division again.
The level of success Missouri has experienced the past two seasons gives evidence that suggests Pinkel is the best coach in the East, if not the entire SEC. In 2013, Missouri destroyed Tennessee 31-3 and last season the Tigers won by eight despite being a 3.5-point underdog. Is Pinkel a vastly superior coach to Butch? The last two seasons would seem to indicate he is. However, Tennessee's talent and depth have been such a detriment on the field, it's hard to gauge just how good of a job the coaching staff has done in year's past. That being said, that excuse won't fly much longer. Tennessee has more momentum moving into 2015 than any program in the conference, both on and off the field, but to continue to build off that momentum, the Vols must begin to win against the teams at the top of the East, otherwise their momentum could begin to slow down.
The talent gap should be close if not in Tennessee's favor this season, but just because you may not know the names of Missouri's players doesn't mean they aren't talented and obviously well coached. Missouri had four players selected in the NFL Draft in 2014 and five in the 2015 NFL Draft. The coaching staff knows how to get the most out of their players and create stars out of relatively unknown players. Any talent advantage may be negated once again by the excellent system in place in Columbia, Missouri.
The Tigers are also expecting their defense to lead the way this season, with the return of the league's top two tacklers in Kentrell Brothers and Michael Scherer. Despite the Tigers losing defensive coordinator Dave Steckel to Missouri State, Mizzou's defense may improve after hiring a rising star in former Memphis defensive coordinator, and Missouri alum, Barry Odom. Don't be surprised if the Tigers field one of the top defenses in the SEC this season.
I don't expect Tennessee to win the East this season, but I do expect them to begin to make their climb back atop the division, and these are the games that the team have to start winning. In division and on the road games are never easy, but winning tough games is what good teams do. The talent is in place this season to make a move, unless Pinkel truly is a vastly superior coach to Butch, now is the time to reverse the curse that has been the Missouri Tigers and continue the program's rise to SEC prominence once again.
Will it actually happen in 2015? Can Tennessee finally slay the beasts of the East and take a step closer to winning the division?