These days, there's no doubting Missouri

Published on NewsOK Modified: January 6, 2014 at 1:57 pm •  Published: January 6, 2014

COLUMBIA, Mo. (AP) — Missouri needs replacements at quarterback and for its pass rush. After matching the school record with 12 wins capped by a Cotton Bowl triumph, nobody doubts coach Gary Pinkel is up for the task.

The move to the SEC stopped looking like a mistake several months ago. Now, Missouri is a program to be reckoned with, even though there'll be seven new starters on defense next fall and many of the top contributors on offense won't be back, either.

After matching the school record for victories set in 2007, the Tigers (12-2) appear to have the depth to reload without the likes of James Franklin, all-American Michael Sam and Kony Ealy.

"These guys came out, came back in January, they just kind of reset the standards for who we are, what we're about," Pinkel said.

The debut SEC season in 2012 was an injury-plagued, 5-7 downer, prompting speculation about Pinkel's future and the school's readiness for the country's top football conference. Missouri was picked to finish sixth in the SEC East.

The East champions impressed from the start, home and away, with a 7-0 start. The SEC championship game loss to Auburn was the only real stumble.

A total of 20 players on the two-deep roster for the Cotton Bowl have at least two years of eligibility remaining. That'll help compensate for the loss of a handful of likely NFL draft picks led by Ealy in the first round, with cornerback E.J. Gaines and offensive tackle Justin Britt projected to go later on.

Redshirt freshman Maty Mauk produced three victories while Franklin was injured and had a nice cameo against Oklahoma State, too, throwing a touchdown pass. He finished with 11 TD passes and a better passer rating than Franklin and enters spring practice as the clear favorite for the job ahead of freshman Eddie Printz.

Tailback is in capable hands with Russell Hansbrough and Marcus Murphy if Henry Josey decides to enter his name in the NFL draft after a huge comeback season.

"There's not always one guy you can count on," Josey said. "You can count on everyone."

Josey will consult with Pinkel and his grandmother, who raised him since infancy but couldn't attend the bowl game due to flu-like symptoms. Ealy is projected as a mid- to late first-round pick by many mock drafts after going "from boy to man" at Missouri, but there aren't any running backs who figure to go early.