By Scott Crumbly
SEC Digital Network
While Auburn has completed the most dramatic turnaround in the nation from last season to this one, Missouri deserves recognition for completing a turnaround of its own.
In 2012, the Tigers (11-1, 7-1 Southeastern Conference) were battered by injuries in their first season in the SEC and failed to find any sort of consistency throughout the year. Due to its struggles a season ago, Mizzou was not recognized in either the AP or USA Today preseason polls.
Much like Auburn, the lack of preseason expectations nationally did little to deter Missouri from achieving greatness on the field in 2013, which head coach Gary Pinkel credits to solid leadership from upperclassmen and a healthier squad.
"The biggest difference [this season] is that we are healthy,” Pinkel said Monday. “The kids had good attitudes last season, but it was just a win then a loss, then a win then a loss almost all year. These guys battled through and through. The senior class did a good job on battling through the adversity."
Despite better injury luck overall, the Tigers still had to battle through several games without starting quarterback James Franklin, who suffered a shoulder injury in the team’s win at Georgia on Oct. 12. Maty Mauk stepped in and helped Mizzou to a 3-1 record in Franklin’s absence. The team’s only loss of the season – a three-point defeat at the hands of South Carolina in double overtime – was as close as they come, and it has been the only speed bump in an otherwise perfect season.
The Missouri defense will have its work cut out this week against a powerful rushing attack from Auburn, but the Tigers’ ‘D’ has been stout against the run this year so far, ranking in the top-14 nationally. Offensively, Mizzou brings a balanced attack, averaging 252 yards through the air and 236 yards per game on the ground while scoring nearly 39 points per contest.
The Tigers have wasted little time acclimating themselves to the SEC, winning the Eastern Division in just their second season as a member of the league.
Missouri Quick Facts
Location: Columbia, Mo.
Stadium (Capacity): Faurot Field (67,124)
SEC Championships: 0
Bowl Appearances: 29
Aug. 31: Mizzou 58, Murray State 14 (Columbia, Mo.)
Sept. 7: Mizzou 38, Toledo 23 (Columbia, Mo.)
Sept. 21: Mizzou 45, Indiana 28 (Bloomington, Ind.)
Sept. 28: Mizzou 41, Arkansas State 19 (Columbia, Mo.)
Oct. 5: Mizzou 51, Vanderbilt 28 (Nashville, Tenn.)
Oct. 12: Mizzou 41, Georgia 26 (Athens, Ga.)
Oct. 19: Mizzou 36, Florida 17 (Columbia, Mo.)
Oct. 26: South Carolina 27, Mizzou 24 – 2OT (Columbia, Mo.)
Nov. 2: Mizzou 31, Tennessee 3 (Columbia, Mo.)
Nov. 9: Mizzou 48, Kentucky 17 (Lexington, Ky.)
Nov. 23: Mizzou 24, Ole Miss 10 (Oxford, Miss.)
Nov. 30: Mizzou 28, Texas A&M 21 (Columbia, Mo.)
SEC Championship Game History (0-0)
Missouri is making its first appearance in the SEC Championship Game. The Tigers, alongside Texas A&M, are the newest members of the conference after joining in 2012 from the Big-12.
Quoting Coach Gary Pinkel
"I think if you have been in the national top ten for most of the season, that it's not only good for the Missouri football program but it's also good for the University of Missouri, the state of Missouri, and the city of Columbia, Missouri. That's how a sport can be an asset to the university in a really positive way. It's great. The more consistent you are in that area the more you reap the benefits of that. It effects a lot more than just winning a football game."