COLUMBIA — This might be the last week of practice for the Missouri football team.
After a long football season, few players feel good physically. On top of that, the Tigers have hardly been rewarded for enduring the weekly barrage of practices and meetings. All of the hits taken, bruises suffered and sprints run have paid off with a 5-6 record.
Missouri (5-6, 2-5 SEC)
vs. Texas A&M (9-2, 5-2 SEC)
WHEN: 6:10 p.m.
WHERE: Kyle Field - College Station, Texas
Missouri quarterback James Franklin suffered a concussion during the game against Syracuse. He is listed as questionable for the game against Texas A&M. David Yost said he thought Franklin was improving.
"He was better yesterday than he was Saturday night. (Head athletic trainer Rex Sharp) said he was better today than he was yesterday," Yost said.
Running back Marcus Murphy played for the Tigers on Saturday but only as a kickoff and punt returner. Coach Gary Pinkel said Murphy had a foot injury but should return to his normal role this week.
Running back Russell Hansbrough also suffered a concussion Saturday. He is listed as questionable for the game against Texas A&M.
Sheldon Richardson has been reinstated after a one-game suspension. Pinkel declined to discuss why Richardson was disciplined.
You would think at some point the players would get burned-out, especially as they see other students go home for Thanksgiving to spend time with family.
Instead of a family gathering for the holiday, what do the players get? More practices. More meetings. More time to focus on football. Motivation might be running out this late in a tough football season.
"Yeah, it's hard, man," guard Max Copeland said. "But something's always there. It's still burning, man. The fire is still there."
Next week, Kendial Lawrence might finally get to rest his legs. Elvis Fisher might finally spend some time away from his knee braces.
Missouri football players would probably feel refreshed if they had a Christmas break without practices for a bowl game.
There is an appeal to losing this week against Texas A&M, but the Tigers aren't thinking about it. They are just trying to win.
"We've got a one game season right now," Fisher said. "You can always bring it out for one more game. Everyone can bring their A-game for one more game, just one more time."
Missouri needs just one win to become bowl eligible, but Texas A&M stands in the way. The Aggies, No. 9 in the BCS rankings, have won nine of their past 10 games. Led by redshirt freshman quarterback and Heisman candidate Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M even defeated No. 1 Alabama in Tuscaloosa, Ala.
It won't be easy for the Tigers to get a win at College Station, Texas.
"I know that sometimes, a lot of people might say, 'It doesn't look like they're even playing that well,'" Fisher said. "We were fighting our butts off out there.
"Sometimes it doesn't go our way, but I don't think anybody on this team is going to give up. I know nobody on this team is going to give up. Especially not me, not with me out there trying to lead these guys."
Lawrence has no plans of giving up, either. The senior running back draws only motivation from the last game of the season. He is looking to accomplish a milestone to honor his offensive line, who have had a difficult year as a group.
Lawrence is just 62 rushing yards shy of 1,000 for the season. He says he can forget about his aches and pains for another week.
"It's not that hard," Lawrence said. "You can just put all that behind you and just play for one another."
Players on the team spend a lot of time together and will be together even more during the week of Thanksgiving without classes. Lawrence says the players become even closer as they work out together, watch film together and even take part in large video game tournaments.
They keep each other focused as a team.
"Everything we've got left, man," Copeland said. "There's no school. We can be full-time football players for a week, which is awesome. We're going to put everything into making this one happen."
Missouri has played at Texas A&M for the past two seasons, and, thanks to scheduling quirks resulting from conference realignment, will play there again Saturday. The Tigers won the past two games, but this year is different.
Missouri is capping off a disappointing season, and Texas A&M, a great one. It's still uncertain if starting quarterback James Franklin will be ready to play after he suffered a concussion last week.
The Tigers will have to dig deep and perform well to have a chance.
"Anyone can do it one more time, right?" Fisher asked.
Fisher, the well documented sixth-year senior, has started 48 games in his career at Missouri. He, like Copeland and Lawrence, isn't even thinking about a bowl game at this point.
He's just ready to play one more time.