COLUMBIA — It's halfway through the 2013 college football season and the Missouri Tigers football team has found itself as one of two undefeated teams in the Southeastern Conference and ranked No. 14 in the nation.
The Tigers also sit atop the SEC East standings. However, the Tigers have two tough games coming up — this week against No. 22 Florida, then against No. 11 South Carolina on Oct. 26.
On the map
The Tigers finally got their marquee SEC win last Saturday against Georgia in Athens. The victory moved them up 11 spots in The Associated Press' Top 25 poll to No. 14. Perhaps more important, the win got a lot of people to start taking the Tigers as a serious contender in the SEC East.
Dennis Dodd of CBS Sports writes the Tigers finally got their breakthrough SEC victory last Saturday, but the team's toughest tests are still to come.
Pat Forde of Yahoo Sports even named head coach Gary Pinkel as the SEC coach of the midyear. "With Florida and South Carolina visiting the next two Saturdays, the road to the SEC East title literally and figuratively (and shockingly) runs through Columbia, Mo.," he writes.
Pinkel: "We didn't do anything different than we did a year ago" when asked if #Mizzou was in over their head last year.— Tod Palmer (@todpalmer) October 16, 2013
The Tigers' 41-26 win has finally earned the Tigers respect in the SEC and shown this year's team is no fluke, Bryan Burwell of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch writes.
The coaches in the SEC also agree the addition of Missouri and Texas A&M have made the league better. "Both Texas A&M and Missouri are much improved from when I was in the Big 12 at Oklahoma State," LSU's coach Les Miles said this week.
Much of Missouri's winning mentality has come from this year's seniors, Tod Palmer of The Kansas City Star reports.
Missouri quarterback James Franklin rushes one yard for a touchdown against the University of Indiana on Sept. 21 at Memorial Stadium in Bloomington, Ind. (PHOTO: JOSHUA BOUCHER/Missourian)
Change at quarterback
Missouri's victory came with a heavy price, though. James Franklin separated his shoulder in the second half and is now expected to miss three to five weeks.
Filling in for Franklin will be redshirt freshman Maty Mauk. Despite a change in quarterback, the offense won't change much and instead will try to tailor its plays to ones Mauk handles well in practice, according to Dave Matter of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
Muschamp expects Missouri to stick with its offense under Mauk. Says Henson has his own twists to MU spread— Dave Matter (@Dave_Matter) October 16, 2013
As a result, the Tigers may need to see more big plays from the backfield, as seen with what running back Marcus Murphy did below against Georgia.
(Video: The Mizzou Network)
Defense stepping up
In recent weeks, Missouri's defense has also stepped up their play. Defensive lineman Michael Sam has been named SEC Defensive Player of the Week twice this season and linebacker Kentrell Brothers won the award for last week's performance against Georgia.
Many writers have also named Sam their defensive MVP for the first half of the SEC season. Blair Kerkhoff of The Kansas City Star credits Sam's back-to-back three sack games as one of the big reasons. ESPN's Greg Ostendorf also named Sam as his defensive MVP. Palmer provides a roundup of Sam's accolades at the mid-season mark.
Sam's defensive play proved valuable for the Tigers against Georgia when he returned a fumble 21 yards for a touchdown.
Florida will be coming off a 17-6 loss at LSU. The Gators were gashed by LSU's defense and as a result, its offensive line will be looking to get back on the same page this week against Missouri, writes Robbie Andreu of The Gainesville Sun.
Pease said the LSU front was just more physical than the UF offensive line.— Robbie Andreu (@RobbieAndreu) October 15, 2013
Like Georgia, Florida is also dealing with its share of injuries. The Gators lost senior running back Matt Jones for the season against LSU, meaning Kelvin Taylor will be carrying the load in the backfield, writes Adam Pincus of The Florida Times-Union.
Keep an eye on Florida's kicking game this week as well. Austin Hardin has struggled in the first five games this season, going four of eight, so the Gators will use two kickers this week, according to Andreu.
If Missouri maintains its lead in the SEC East during the next two weeks, expect CBS to reconsider broadcasting the Tigers after the network passed on Missouri's games against Florida and South Carolina — two pivotal games to determine the SEC East leader.
Supervising editor is Frank Russell.