Before the season even began for the Missouri Tigers, it was relatively clear that Gary Pinkel and Mizzou had to be better in 2013.
An injury-riddled 2012 campaign seemed excusable considering the Tigers were making the transition into the nation’s toughest conference, but having won at least eight games in each of the program’s final six seasons in the Big 12, 5-7 wasn’t something they were going to stomach again.
Now, three weeks into a season that’s bound to eventually test the merits of both Pinkel and the Tigers, Missouri is sitting at 3-0 and they appear to be sporting the potentially dangerous offense that we’ve come to expect from a Gary Pinkel football team. That’s thanks in large part to a healthy James Franklin and Henry Josey and an improved Dorial Green-Beckham.
On Saturday, the Tigers were tested on the road against the Indiana Hoosiers and were able to compile 623 yards of total offense on their way to a 45-28 victory. And while Indiana is still a perennial cellar-dweller in the Big Ten, what Missouri did offensively against the Hoosiers was befitting of what you’d expect an SEC team to do to an overmatched non-conference BCS opponent.
James Franklin was productive and overcame a pair of turnovers to rack up over 400 yards of total offense and two touchdowns through the air to go with a one-yard scamper for a touchdown that broke a 14-14 tie mid way through the second quarter. It was exactly the kind of performance Missouri is going to need going forward from the talented senior if they’re going to be competitive in the SEC East.
Realistically speaking, Missouri is still a ways away from entering into the upper echelon of the division, but with the way their schedule lays out, if they can finish off the non-conference portion of the slate unbeaten and can carve out three or four wins in the SEC, it’ll be a win for Gary Pinkel and the Missouri Tigers. Especially in the sense that it will significantly cool the hot seat chatter surrounding the head ball coach in Columbia… the other Columbia.
Of course, getting to seven or eight wins and managing to scratch out a .500 record in the conference means ultimately knocking off one of the league’s dominant programs and winning on the road. The Missouri Tigers travel to Vanderbilt and Kentucky, two games they’ll have to win for eight wins to become a reality. They’ll also host Tennessee, Florida, South Carolina and Texas A&M, where they figure to be home underdogs in at least three of those contests.
Needless to say, Missouri will have to win at least a few games where they aren’t the favorites, and that will likely fall on the shoulder’s of the offense. Franklin is one of the most experienced quarterbacks in the conference, and they’ve got enough firepower on the outside to at least score with the league’s elite offenses.
That’s somewhat ironic in a conference that is traditionally defense-oriented, but the additions of Missouri and Texas A&M coupled with a run of talented quarterbacks entering the league have made the 2013 machination of the SEC look decidedly more offensive. It’s been somewhat surprising considering just two years ago the SEC’s marquee matchup of the year was a 12-6 slobberknocker between the LSU Tigers and the Alabama Crimson Tide.
Now, two years later, the league’s game of the year was a 49-42 barn-burner between the Tide and Johnny Manziel’s Aggies.
However, that plays directly into the hands of a coach like Gary Pinkel and a team like Missouri, which has been known for what they’ve accomplished offensively over the last 13 seasons under Pinkel.
I guess what I’m hinting at is, if there is ever a time for Missouri to carve out a role in the SEC, it’s now. And this team looks up for the challenge, although we’ll get a better idea of whether or not this squad is game when they travel to Nashville to take on the Vanderbilt Commodores in two weeks.
And while it seems asinine to put so much stock into a Week Six matchup, that contest with Vanderbilt could be the game that ultimately defines the Missouri Tigers season and whether or not Gary Pinkel still has a job in 2014.