COLUMBIA — Waking up the day after last Saturday's 27-24 double-overtime loss wasn't easy for the Missouri football team.
Weeks' worth of buildup for the homecoming matchup, which brought as much energy to Memorial Stadium as any game in recent memory, came crashing down with a heartbreaker of an ending.
Saturday night was a sleepless night for several Missouri players and coaches. Play after play raced through their heads: The 24-yard field goal that bounced off the uprights to end the game in double overtime; the 15-yard touchdown pass Connor Shaw threw on fourth down in the first overtime; or any number of plays that contributed to a 17-point fourth-quarter comeback by South Carolina to push the game to overtime.
The perfect season was over, and Missouri couldn't help but try to figure how it had happened, especially when for most of Saturday's game, everything was going the team's way.
"That's life," defensive end Kony Ealy said after the game.
In Missouri's locker room and throughout Columbia on Saturday night, one might have thought the sky was falling. Some players admit to Sunday's mood being just as forlorn.
Sunday night, however, may have provided a bit of a positive wake-up call.
The new BCS rankings revealed Missouri had fallen only four spots, from No. 5 to No. 9. The Southeastern Conference standings didn't show significant change for Missouri, either. Sure, South Carolina may have closed the gap, but Missouri is still in first place in the East Division. Furthermore, Missouri has played without two of its captains, quarterback James Franklin and cornerback E.J. Gaines.
"If you're a player here, why would you not be encouraged?" Missouri coach Gary Pinkel said Monday. "We have a huge chance to finish. November is a big month.
"You should be the most fired up football player in America with the opportunity we have in front of us."
At the beginning of the season, the Missouri seniors laid out their goals for the team. Win the conference. Make it to a BCS bowl game. Be the team people remember.
All of those goals are still well within reach. In fact, there are a number of scenarios in the final four games in which Missouri could end up in Atlanta playing for the SEC Championship at the end of the season. Winning the rest of its games would go a long way in making these goals a reality.
"Nothing is going to be easy about it, but you love to be in this situation," Pinkel said.
"We're still in control of what we want to play for," center Evan Boehm added. "It's all there."
Missouri has been in this situation before.
In 2010, after beating Oklahoma at home, improving to 7-0 and moving up to No. 6 in the BCS rankings, Missouri lost to Nebraska. That game didn't ruin the Tigers' season, but it made them lose enough focus to turn a one-game losing streak into a two-game losing streak after falling to Texas Tech the following week.
On the other hand, the 2007 Missouri team suffered a midseason loss to Oklahoma and was able to win six straight games following the loss and climb to No. 1 in the BCS rankings.
Saturday will be the first indication of which direction Missouri will take in 2013. Tennessee visits Columbia fresh off a lopsided loss to Alabama, but the Volunteers have played much better recently than at the beginning of the season.
The Tigers can either use the bitter taste from the loss to South Carolina to get a second wind with four games to go, or they can let it carry over into Saturday's game against Tennessee.
"Which team do you want to be?" Pinkel asked.
Supervising editor is Sasu Siegelbaum.