Respect continues to increase as Missouri enters fourth SEC football season

Respect continues to increase as Missouri enters fourth SEC football season

June 26th, 2015 by David Paschall in Sports - College

Tennessee coach Butch Jones, right, congratulates Missouri quarterback Maty Mauk after an NCAA college football game Saturday, Nov. 22, 2014 in Knoxville, Tenn. Missouri won 29-21. (AP Photo/Wade Payne)

Photo by Wade Payne

Missouri quarterback Maty Mauk (7) celebrates after running 18-yards for a touchdown against Minnesota during the second half of the Citrus Bowl NCAA college football game in Orlando, Fla., Thursday, Jan. 1, 2015. Missouri won 33-17. (AP Photo/John Raoux)

Missouri quarterback Maty Mauk (7) celebrates after running...

Photo by John Raoux

Though Texas A&M made the bigger splash of the newest Southeastern Conference football programs in 2012, Missouri has been the one winning more consistently since.

Gary Pinkel's Tigers were largely unnoticed in their debut SEC season, as injuries ravaged their offensive line and went a long way in dictating a 5-7 record with just two league wins. In the past two seasons, however, Missouri has posted consecutive 7-1 conference marks that resulted in back-to-back Eastern Division championships. They were 12-2 in 2013 and 11-3 last year.

And a newfound respect along the way?

"I think overall that would be fair to say," Pinkel said on a recent conference call. "I think the SEC has a lot to do with that, and that's no disrespect to any other leagues. I don't think there is any question that winning 23 games the last two years in this league has helped the respect and prestige and what have you of our program.

"It's been very, very positive."

Missouri has played in four conference championship games during the past eight seasons, earning Big 12 North Division titles in 2007 and '08. The Tigers lost handily to Oklahoma on each of those title-game occasions and have been overrun the past two seasons by Auburn and Alabama inside the Georgia Dome, but they are at least getting to where others in their division want to go.

At the SEC media days event in July 2013, Missouri was picked sixth in the seven-team East behind Georgia, South Carolina, Florida, Vanderbilt and Tennessee. The Tigers beat the Bulldogs, Gators, Commodores and Volunteers by at least 15 points that season and yielded a 17-point lead in a memorable double-overtime loss to the Gamecocks.

Last July, the media tabbed Missouri fourth in the East behind South Carolina, Georgia and Florida. The Tigers were not quite as dominant as the year before, losing 34-0 at home to Georgia, but closed with six straight SEC wins, including upset triumphs at Texas A&M and Tennessee.

Whether the Tigers get more preseason respect this time around will be revealed within the next three weeks, though more publications seem to be including the Tigers in their Top 25 rankings.

"You want to keep winning at a very high level, but we all want to do that," Pinkel said. "It's very difficult to do, and it's the consistency and recruiting and player development that is so important, because that's what you're putting on the field. That's what we emphasize."

Maty Mauk, who quarterbacked the Tigers to last year's East title and was a part-time starter in 2013, is prepping for his senior season. Tailback Russell Hansbrough is back, along with four returning starters up front, but the Tigers must replace receivers Jimmie Hunt, Bud Sasser and Darius White.

Hunt had six receptions for 169 yards in last year's SEC title game, keeping Missouri close for three quarters until Alabama scored 21 points in the final 15 minutes to pull away for a 42-13 win.

The potential star of this year's defense, junior tackle Harold Brantley, was in a car accident this past Sunday that resulted in a broken tibia and fractured ribs. The 6-foot-3, 290-pounder also suffered ligament damage in his knee that will require surgery next month.

Missouri's defense will be coordinated by Barry Odom, who is replacing new Missouri State head coach Dave Steckel. Odom was safeties coach of the Tigers during their last three years in the Big 12 and is familiar with how Pinkel wants things done.

Given Missouri's success the past few years, there isn't much new to learn.

"We don't change things up a lot," Pinkel said. "We want to make ourselves about 5 percent better every year in all the different aspects of our program, so we don't make huge changes, because what we do works."

Tide to host Fresno State

Alabama announced Thursday afternoon that the Crimson Tide will welcome Fresno State to Bryant-Denny Stadium on Sept. 9, 2017. It will be the first football meeting between the two schools.

Contact David Paschall at dpaschall@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6524.