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College football: Two years after bolting the Big 12, Missouri in thick of SEC title race

MISSOURI at OLE MISS — Those who thought Missouri would falter in the SEC were right last season. But year two after leaving the Big 12 finds the Tigers two wins away from the SEC title game.
by Berry Tramel Published: November 22, 2013

Missouri's first SEC season was a dud. The Tigers didn't even make a bowl, going 5-7 overall and 2-6 in the league.

But Year 2 is vastly different. The Tigers are 9-1, ranked eighth nationally and can win the SEC East with victories at Ole Miss on Saturday and at home the following Saturday against Texas A&M.

Many of us thought Mizzou would do well immediately in the SEC, after the Tigers bolted the Big 12. Instead, it took a second season for Mizzou to find its SEC legs.

Back-to-back victories over Georgia (41-26) and Florida (36-17) propelled the Tigers into the national spotlight, and there they've stayed. Beat Mississippi and A&M, and Missouri gets a date with probably Alabama in the SEC title game.

But Missouri coach Gary Pinkel said such lofty heights shouldn't be playing into Tiger minds Saturday in Oxford, Miss.

“That is clutter," Pinkel said. "Teams that prepare right don't let that affect them. They focus on what they can control, and that is playing well. That is when your mental toughness kicks in, and you do not let outside things change your focus. I will be really disappointed if we put all those kind of pressures on ourselves.”

Missouri's success is even more impressive considering starting quarterback James Franklin has missed the last four games with a shoulder injury. The Tigers went 3-1 without him, losing to South Carolina, but now Franklin is back. He has 14 touchdown passes and just three interceptions this season.

Pinkel coached Missouri to Big 12 North Division titles in 2007 and 2008. In 2007, Mizzou rose to No. 1 in America, until a Big 12 championship game loss to OU.

But making the SEC title game would be the pinnacle of Pinkel's 13 Missouri seasons.

by Berry Tramel
Berry Tramel, a lifelong Oklahoman, sports fan and newspaper reader, joined The Oklahoman in 1991 and has served as beat writer, assistant sports editor, sports editor and columnist. Tramel grew up reading four daily newspapers — The Oklahoman,...
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