COLUMBIA — The differences between the 2012 Missouri football team and the 2007 Missouri team are many.
The 2007 team, led by Chase Daniel and Jeremy Maclin, went 12-2, scored more than 30 points in 13 of its 14 games and averaged 39.9 points per game.
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
The current team is 5-6, has hit 30 points only three times and averages 25.5 points per game, a number that has been boosted by a 62-point performance against lowly Southeastern Louisiana and a 51-point outburst in four overtimes against Tennessee, arguably the worst defense in college football.
According to Missouri coach Gary Pinkel, one key difference has led to all the others.
"This season has been frustrating, just for me personally, from the injury standpoint," Pinkel said Monday. "It doesn’t matter. We’ve got to win anyway, and I’m responsible to win anyway. But the issues and problems we’ve had there, that’s been the most frustrating for me. Just because you don’t have the same team."
What the team could have been with offensive linemen Travis Ruth and Jack Meiners, running back Henry Josey and a healthy James Franklin, we’ll never know.
But if that 2007 team had been hit with the adversity this one has endured, Pinkel said, Missouri fans wouldn’t look back on it so fondly.
"If you go back to 2007, and if we had the same challenges back then as we have now, I suggest we might win seven or eight games instead of 12," Pinkel said. "That’s kind of the way I feel."
The 2012 campaign has played out like a game of dominoes: Once the first one falls, the rest inevitably go with it.
An injured offensive line led to a battered and injured quarterback. An injured quarterback led to a lack of production on offense. A lack of production on offense led to a 5-6 record, and the distinct possibility of missing a bowl game for the first time in eight years.
"I don’t think this year we’ve had the same starting lineup for two consecutive games, so it’s very hard to adjust and mesh everything together," receiver Marcus Lucas said. "But we’re trying our best."
The lack of continuity on offense has put a strain on Missouri’s passing game, especially. When a receiver isn’t sure who’s going to start the next game, it makes establishing a rhythm and building confidence more difficult, Lucas said.
And in a season where Franklin has missed two games entirely and played sparingly in three others, Missouri’s receivers have almost always been one step behind.
"It’s definitely hard when you have two different quarterbacks, you know. Not to make any excuses or anything, but it’s definitely hard to adjust," Lucas said. "But I feel like we can get some more consistency and mesh together a little bit better. Injuries and everything like that, it’s just been detrimental to our offense this year."
During the past two weeks, it appeared as if the passing attack was finally starting to click the way Missouri’s receivers expected it to before the season began.
During that span, Franklin threw for 505 yards and six touchdowns with only one interception. Eight different Tigers caught passes during the two games, and three different receivers caught touchdowns.
But after Franklin sustained a concussion in the fourth quarter of Missouri’s loss to Syracuse on Saturday, that familiar uncertainty has returned. He’s questionable to play in the season finale against Texas A&M, leaving the receivers once again in a difficult position.
But to reach a bowl game, it’s something they must overcome, just as they have been attempting to do all year. According to Lucas, a sixth win on the road against the No. 9 team in the country – and against “Johnny Football,” to boot – would say something about the will of this team.
"It just shows the character that our team does have, that we’ve been thrown all these road blocks, and we find a way to get through it and slip through the cracks a little bit," Lucas said. "That (win) would show that our team is just relentless."
All the statistics point to the obvious: This is not the 2007 Missouri team. That team flourished, lighting up scoreboards and torching inferior opponents. This team has had to scratch and claw for every point and every win on its schedule.
And while Pinkel acknowledges the challenges his team has had to face and will again face Saturday, he also knows that in this conference and in this program, 5-6 is not good enough.
"I think any time you struggle with some of the issues that we’ve had, you just feel bad for our players, because it’s difficult. But it doesn’t matter," Pinkel said. "We still have to find a way to win games, and we should have won more games. And I’m responsible for that."