COLUMBIA — It started on Thursday morning.
All the way down Ninth Street and across Broadway, shops covered their windows with painted murals to celebrate MU Homecoming. Generic messages lined the windows.
"Beat South Carolina."
Then the tagline of Missouri's 102nd Homecoming and 2013 football season was printed in bold.
"The Black and Gold Standard."
In 2012, there were excuses. An injury-riddled team stumbled to a 5-7 season. The first season in the Southeastern Conference didn't go as planned, and attendance at Memorial Stadium dwindled as the season came to a close.
The Tigers have raised their standard on the field so far in 2013. Wins over Georgia and Florida helped vault Missouri to a 7-0 record and No. 5 ranking in the BCS. Another ranked opponent, South Carolina, was on the schedule for Homecoming. Last season, the Gamecocks sent the Tigers back to Columbia with a 31-10 loss.
A lot can change in a year.
The buzz continued on Saturday morning. While the Homecoming Parade rolled down Rollins Street, Chris Fowler, Lee Corso, Desmond Howard and Kirk Herbstreit were showering Missouri with praise on ESPN's College Gameday.
The show dedicated a segment to redshirt freshman quarterback Maty Mauk. Running back Henry Josey and center Evan Boehm were interviewed for the show, as well. When it came time for the panel to make its picks for the day, it was unanimous; Missouri would beat South Carolina.
Three and a half hours before kickoff, the anticipation had reached a fever pitch. The sidewalks on the streets surrounding Memorial Stadium weren't for walking; they were for tailgating. Ticket scalpers were more active than usual, standing beneath the shadow of the construction on the East Side of the stadium — another sign of the new standard Missouri is trying to reach.
An hour and a half until kickoff and the gates finally opened. Students poured in by the hundreds, wanting to get as close to the action as possible. The four lower sections of the student section were full within 30 minutes.
Meanwhile, the pavement in the Hearnes Center parking lot was barely visible. Cars, tents and people were packed from one corner to the other. Police not only had to direct traffic, but they were tasked with keeping tailgaters out of the street. The parking lot and sidewalk could barely contain the mass of people.
Thirty minutes before kickoff and Memorial Stadium was nearly full. The Boone County Emergency Management Agency sent out a text message, warning Columbia residents of large crowds around the stadiun, the first such emergency alert of the season.
Just moments before kickoff, the public address announcer introduced SEC Commissioner Mike Slive to a full Missouri crowd. His first trip to a Missouri game was for one of the most electric game day atmospheres in recent memory.
The ball was flying through the air on the kickoff. The once raucous streets had calmed. Unlike earlier in the season, there were no stragglers. Everyone was packed into the stadium. That's the new standard.