COLUMBIA — The Missouri Tigers were picked by many to finish in the bottom half of the Southeastern Conference's East Division this season. A 5-7 performance in 2012 left many thinking this season would end in a similar result.
Instead, in week nine, the Tigers are 7-0 and No. 5 in the Associated Press' Top 25 poll — the team's highest ranking since the 2007 season. Missouri has also convincingly beat every opponent it has faced, winning each game by at least two touchdowns.
Missouri's dominance has given the team a two-game lead in the SEC East as it goes into this week's game against division foe South Carolina. It also has writers and bloggers, such as Bryan Burwell of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, commenting about the chances of the Tigers making it to the SEC Championship Game.
"And while we’re still a long way from the SEC championship game in Atlanta, maybe it’s time to start considering just how real the possibility is that the Tigers could get there," Burwell writes.
Spurrier on Missouri: "Basically when they beat Georgia is when they got the attention of everyone."— Ryan Wood (@rwood_SC) October 22, 2013
"Mizzou can stamp ticket to ATL vs. South Carolina," Brad Crawford of the Saturday Down South blog writes. A win would give Missouri a three-game lead in the East with only games left against Tennessee and Kentucky in the division.
Vahe Gregorian of The Kansas City Star writes that with Missouri's recent victories, the team has shown why it belongs atop the SEC East.
"Missouri looks nothing like the group that finished 5-7 — and 2-6 against conference opponents — in its inaugural SEC season," writes Ryan Wood of The Post and Courier in Charleston, S.C.
The offensive and defensive lines
Much of the Tigers' success has come from production by the big men up front. Defensive end Michael Sam was named the defensive player of the week after his three-sack performance against Florida — the third time he's received an award this season.
It was the sixth time a Missouri defensive player has won an SEC award this season, writes Dave Matter of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
Missouri defensive lineman Kony Ealy, left, and Michael Sam team up to sack Florida quarterback Tyler Murphy in the third quarter Saturday at Memorial Stadium. Ealy and Sam have been big contributors to the defensive line's success this season. (PHOTO: QUINT SMITH/Missourian)
Sharon Katz of ESPN also mentions how the defense leads the SEC in sacks with with 53 and is second in the SEC with tackles for loss at 55. Those stats, along with Sam and Kony Ealy on the defensive line, leave Katz asking, "Does Missouri have the best (defensive line) in the SEC?"
The offensive line, after being decimated by injuries last year, has stayed relatively healthy this season, making it "a treat for Missouri's runners," writes Tod Palmer of The Kansas City Star.
Spurrier on Mizzou defense: "They're very fast ... don't have any fat guys ... play their zones extremely well ... really react to the ball"— Dave Matter (@Dave_Matter) October 23, 2013
After senior quarterback James Franklin injured his shoulder against Georgia, the questions arose about how backup redshirt freshman Maty Mauk could handle the starting role. After all, his first two starts would come against Florida and South Carolina.
Mauk, however, ended up passing for 295 yards, throwing for one touchdown and rushing for one as well en route to the 36-17 victory. After reviewing the game, Mauk said he needs to get rid of the ball more quickly and that "he was a half-step late on a few things," Matter writes.
Lucas on Mauk: He played very confidently. He told us he would take shots down field, and he did that. He was relentless. #Mizzou— Tod Palmer (@todpalmer) October 21, 2013
Trevor Matich of ESPN broke down Mauk's performance against Florida and said Mauk "has been successful because he's kept it very simple."
Mauk showed some of his passing skills that helped him set so many high school records with his touchdown pass to Bud Sasser at the beginning of the game.
(Video: Mizzou Network)
Although South Carolina starting quarterback Connor Shaw won't need surgery on his left knee, his team will be without him Saturday against the Tigers.
Backup quarterback Dylan Thompson will get the start in Shaw's place.
The Gamecocks also will be coming off a last-second 23-21 loss to Tennessee, a game that helped Missouri gain its two-game lead in the East.
The Gamecocks also gave up a big catch in Tennessee's final drive last Saturday, something the Gamecocks will be looking to avoid against Missouri, despite their secondary's height disadvantage, Wood writes.
South Carolina also has one of the country's most menacing defensive linemen in Jadeveon Clowney. However, Clowney has sat out a few games this season due to injury. Although the Tigers have most likely been planning on how to handle Clowney, Mauk and the offense won't let him get inside their heads Saturday, Matthew Fairburn of the Missourian writes.
Missouri could take control of the East Division with a win over South Carolina, but Yahoo Sports' Pat Forde reminds Tigers fans to be cautious, given Missouri football's history of "you-must-be-kidding" defeats.
Missouri's 102nd Homecoming
Saturday's game against South Carolina will mark the 102nd Homecoming game for Missouri. Below are some posts from fans and alumni sharing their thoughts on this weekend's game using the hashtag #MIZ102HC:
Mizzou, I wrote this for you: 39 Things That Make You Want To Come Home To Columbia, Mo. http://t.co/BZUgzFORyT— Dan Oshinsky (@danoshinsky) October 22, 2013
Supervising editor is Frank Russell.