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NCAA Football Missouri Tigers

Missouri Football’s 5 Most Intriguing Players Heading Into 2014

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Missouri Football's 5 Most Intriguing Players Heading Into 2014

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Kevin Jairaj - USA Today Sports

Missouri was one of the biggest surprises in all of college football last season, going 12-2 and winning the Cotton Bowl. Expected to be a seven- or eight-win team, the Tigers ended up one SEC Championship game win away from playing for the national championship. Now that expectations have been raised far higher in 2014, returning players and new players alike will be key.

Some key losses that the Tigers sustained from a season ago include James Franklin, Henry Josey, Max Copeland, Marcus Lucas and L’Damian Washington. On defense, they are losing Kony Ealy, E.J. Gaines, Michael Sam, Andrew Wilson, Donovan Bonner, Randy Ponder and Matt White. Clearly, the team is losing some key players that it must replace in 2014. New players as well as players who got some playing time last season will have to step up for the Tigers.

There will surely be players that step up that nobody has ever heard of before. Additionally, the team will have players step up that were integral parts of last year’s team. Where the help comes from doesn't really matter, as long as the squad gets the same production on both sides of the ball that they did last season. It isn't going to be easy to live up to new lofty expectations, but the Tigers have the talent on their roster to do it.

By inserting younger players and moving around some players who have been on the team for a while, this team can approach their 12-win mark again in 2014. At key positions, the team will need various players of various types to step up in the same way that their players did in 2013. Their success in 2014 depends on that. Here are five players that figure to be the most intriguing for the Tigers in 2014.

Jacob Kornhauser is a writer for RantSports.com. "Like" him on Facebook, follow him on Twitter, or add him to your Google+ network.

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5. CB Aarion Penton

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Tim Heitman - USA Today Sports

When E.J. Gaines went down with injury during a chunk of last season, freshman Aarion Penton stepped up and played admirably. He showed growing pains, but going into his sophomore season, he will be a starter in the defensive backfield. Penton had 15 tackles and one interception a year ago and should build on that in 2014.

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4. WR Levi Copelin

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Denny Medley - USA Today Sports

Copelin didn't play much a season ago, but he did see action in four games at wideout. With so much talent in front of him at receiver, it makes sense that he didn't play much, but he will be the team's third receiver this season. Overall, Copelin had three catches for 61 yards in 2013. With an increased role in the offense, those numbers should sky rocket in 2014.

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3. WR Darius White

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Kyle Rivas - Getty Images

Playing in parts of seven different games, many times out of the slot, White showed flashes of the talent he brings to the table for the Tigers. As the likely No. 2 receiver this season, he will have to continue to build on that potential. A season ago, he accumulated seven catches for 76 yards and a touchdown. At 6' 3" and 205 pounds, White has all the tools to be a very solid receiver for the Tigers in 2014.

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2. HB Russell Hansbrough

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Denny Medley - USA Today Sports

A major contributor out of the backfield last season, Hansbrough is now "the man" for Missouri at running back. While he will still split time with Marcus Murphy, Hansbrough will get the bulk of the carries for the Tigers in 2014 because of his upside as he will only be a junior. A year ago, Hansbrough carried the ball 114 times for 685 yards and four touchdowns. That should just be a sign of things to come for Hansbrough who has limitless potential for the Tigers.

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1. QB Maty Mauk

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Mark Zerof - USA Today Sports

Playing extremely well while quarterback James Franklin was injured last season and is more than likely to be the team's starter this season. Throwing for 1,071 yards, 11 touchdowns and two interceptions last year to go along with 229 rushing yards, Mauk is clearly a dual threat. He will only be a redshirt sophomore in 2014 and should be the Tigers' man under center for years to come.