COLUMBIA — The 2007 Missouri football team was maybe the best Tigers squad since coach Dan Devine stood on the sideline in the 1960s.
Led by a cast of future NFL players that numbered in the double digits, that team won 12 games, including a 38-7 win over Arkansas in the Cotton Bowl. And while Missouri has fielded two 10-win teams since then, the football program has not reached those heights that Chase Daniel and Co. managed to do it six seasons ago.
No. 5 Missouri vs. No. 20 South Carolina
WHEN: 6 p.m. Saturday
WHERE: Faurot Field, Columbia
This year’s team is well aware of the gold standard set in 2007.
“We’re tired of hearing about it,” wide receiver Marcus Lucas said.
The current version of Missouri football wants to create its own legacy.
With a 7-0 record and a No. 5 BCS ranking, the team sits atop the Southeastern Conference's East Division. If Missouri wins against South Carolina on Saturday night, it would take — as Sports Illustrated’s Andy Staples called it — an “epic collapse” by the Tigers down the stretch to not skate into Atlanta for the SEC Championship Game in December.
But don’t call Missouri the favorite.
“The last time I checked, we’re still a 6 1/2-point underdog to South Carolina at home,” center Evan Boehm said. “The respect isn’t given. We know that right now. It’s earned.
"Personally, I like being the underdog because not a lot of people expected us to do what we’re doing right now. We’re out there to create those big eyes and (people) saying, ‘Holy cow, where did Mizzou come from?’”
The dark horse status is a major parallel to 2007. This year’s team was not ranked until after its fifth win, while that talented 2007 team had to win three games before cracking the polls.
The 2007 team lost an early away game at No. 6 Oklahoma but still climbed to No. 1 after a memorable November victory over Kansas in Kansas City. Pundits lauded that team as a national title favorite. Unfortunately, the Tigers’ light-speed offense faltered in the Big 12 Championship Game against the Sooners one week later.
That’s where the 2013 team has a chance to improve on the black and gold tradition: Missouri has never been invited to a BCS bowl game. This new group of players wants to land in the Fiesta, Orange, Rose or Sugar — maybe the national championship game.
“You just want to be that team that people will reference,” Lucas said. “That 2013 team was this and that. That’s definitely something we want to leave, but we just have to take care of each game to do that.”
There’s a difference between wishing and winning, and Missouri has proved that it can get it done on the field this year. Coach Gary Pinkel called this year’s squad “special.”
“It’s a just a sense of how driven they were,” Pinkel said. “It was an attitude they carried. A no-nonsense attitude about getting better. I think they’ve had a lot of fun, too. Shoot, I’ve got guys singing songs before Wednesday practice. What’s happened to me?”
A solid foundation is in place to make a record run, but the Tigers are no longer an anonymous crew. The national spotlight is on them, and it’s Homecoming week. South Carolina is one of the best teams in the country. It’s important not to get caught up in the moment.
“You walk around campus and you hear, ‘Oh my gosh. No. 5. This is awesome. You guys played a great game,’” Boehm said. “You can’t worry about that. You say, ‘Yeah, it was a fun game, but we have to worry about South Carolina.’”
Win, and Missouri continues a dream season. Linebacker Donovan Bonner understands the importance of every "W."
“Winning these games, it’s bigger than just Mizzou, me or another player,” Bonner said. ‘This is big. It’s for the guys before us that worked hard and tried to get the recognition. That 2007 team was right there. They didn’t get to go to a BCS bowl. It’s more about the state of Missouri and just playing for everybody, the whole state.”
Supervising editor is Erik Hall.