Missouri football still facing criticism despite 7-0 start

Thursday, October 24, 2013 | 9:25 p.m. CDT

COLUMBIA — Missouri coach Gary Pinkel didn't watch. He never does. Justin Britt didn't need to watch. His phone was flooded with text messages. Mitch Morse admitted it was nice to see.

On Sunday night, a day after Missouri's 36-17 win over Florida, ESPN held its first BCS Countdown show of the season. 

The schools flashed across the screen.

First Alabama, winner of the last two National Championships. Then Florida State, a program that won two National Championships in the 1990s. The iconic "O" logos of Oregon and Ohio State appeared on the screen next. 

An unfamiliar team joined the four national powers to round out the top five; Missouri. No. 5 is the highest BCS ranking for Missouri since 2007, when the Tigers were ranked No. 1.

"I don't care if you glance at it, look at it once," Pinkel said. "But if you're waiting for ESPN to come on and say nice things about Mizzou ... we dealt with that in 2007. The last couple years we haven't had to deal with it too much."

It's a welcome change, though, isn't it?

"It's nice to get recognition, but it just puts a target on your back automatically," Morse said. "If it was up to me, I wouldn't mind being unranked. I wouldn't want to be anywhere in the newspaper, on ESPN or anything."

Missouri was on ESPN. Just moments after the huge jump in the rankings was made official, the negativity began to pour in.

"I'm still skeptical about Missouri," ESPN analyst Jesse Palmer said. "A lot of their big wins have come against injury-depleted teams. They've gotten really lucky. I want to see them play somebody good, fully loaded. They've been impressive. I'm just not totally sold on them yet."

The criticism isn't totally off base.

Missouri knocked off Georgia, but the Bulldogs were playing with third-string players at wide receiver and running back. Missouri's 19-point victory over Florida was impressive, but the Gators were playing without seven starters, including their quarterback and two best defensive players.

Of course, Missouri is no stranger to injuries. Starting quarterback James Franklin and defensive captain E.J. Gaines both missed Missouri's win against Florida after sustaining injuries against Georgia. Regardless of what people are saying, however, Missouri knows its 7-0 start isn't a fluke. 

"It's college football," quarterback Maty Mauk said. "Everybody's out there for a reason, everybody's good. It doesn't matter what people say. As long as we come out here and win, that's what we're here to do. A win is a win."

On Saturday against South Carolina, Missouri will catch yet another break on the injury front. Gamecocks starting quarterback Connor Shaw is going to miss the game with a knee injury, meaning backup Dylan Thompson will be starting. 

"Dylan’s ready," South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier said in a teleconference on Wednesday. "He’s taking all the snaps now. I don’t think Connor’s going to be 100 percent. He loves to play, but I think it’s time to let Dylan see what he can do and go from there."

Shaw's injury will give the critics more ammunition, but Pinkel and the Tigers are going back to blocking out ESPN and using it as motivation.

"If you get caught up in that stuff, you're never going to play your best," Pinkel said. "Doggone it, why don't you just commit your whole life to going to school and playing football? Embrace it, and go for it. You've got a chance to do some incredible things."

Supervising editor is Sasu Siegelbaum.

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