When Missouri left the Big 12 for the SEC's 2012 season, it did so as a solid program, not a traditional league power. The Tigers made two appearances in the Big 12 championship game in the old North-South setup, only to get popped both times by Oklahoma.
Mizzou last called itself a league champion in 1969, when it shared the Big Eight crown with Nebraska. The Tigers haven't won a league title outright since 1960.
And their first step into the SEC was a stumble: 5-7 overall, managing conference wins against only Kentucky and Tennessee.
Expectations hardly were on the rise this season, with Mizzou picked to finish sixth in the SEC East, receiving not a single vote in the national preseason polls.
But the Tigers emerged as one of the nation's surprise teams, going 11-1 in the regular season before running into Auburn, which next plays for the national championship. Mizzou's other loss came against No. 9 South Carolina, 27-24 in double overtime, when it was without Franklin.
“Nothing really surprises me anymore in college football,” Gundy said, “but I think this is one of the best stories for a turnaround season.”
The Tigers did not, however, play Alabama or LSU, leaving some critics questioning their résumé.
Still, Mizzou looks the part, with a balanced offense that features multiple playmakers and ranks No. 15 nationally in scoring offense and No. 16 in total offense. The defensive numbers are strong, too, at No. 29 in scoring defense, allowing 22.5 points per game.