COLUMBIA — In a matter of weeks, the theme for the Missouri Tigers' 2013 season has changed from whether the team can compete in the Southeastern Conference to how far the team can go.
After suffering a double overtime loss to South Carolina two weeks ago, the Tigers bounced back with a 31-3 win over Tennessee. The victory pushed the Tigers up to No. 8 in the latest BCS rankings.
The win also kept the Tigers in the driver's seat for the SEC East Division title, albeit still one game ahead of the Gamecocks. South Carolina needs to beat Florida on Nov. 16 to stay in the hunt, while Missouri simply needs to win out to make it to Atlanta.
As the Tigers begin their final stretch of games, many teams will be jockeying for better position in the BCS rankings. Bryan Burwell of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch writes "the only lobbying Missouri needs to indulge in right now" is winning.
"Winning allows this impressive team to keep imagining so many possibilities," Burwell writes.
Pinkel on progress in year 2 of SEC: "A lot of people might think we made all these changes and we really haven’t."— Dave Matter (@Dave_Matter) November 4, 2013
Missouri, South Carolina and Georgia all remain in contention for the SEC East Division title. However, it's Missouri that Jon Cooper of the Saturday Down South blog thinks would give Alabama the toughest test in the SEC Championship — if Alabama wins the West.
The question at quarterback
Redshirt freshman quarterback Maty Mauk has filled in nicely for the Tigers after senior James Franklin went down with a shoulder injury in October. Mauk was also named the SEC Freshman of the Week for the second time in three weeks after passing for three touchdowns against Tennessee.
Stoops on Mauk: It's a great testament to their team and the depth they have there that #Mizzou hasn't had much drop off.— Tod Palmer (@todpalmer) November 6, 2013
Mauk was also helped by his receivers finding openings in the Tennessee defense, resulting in touchdowns of 9, 26 and 40 yards.
However, Franklin was listed third on the depth chart against Tennessee, which has left many asking whether Franklin will return this week against Kentucky. "With Franklin possibly available Saturday, Missouri faces an intriguing choice this week," writes Dave Matter of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Matter asks whether Missouri should bring back Franklin early or give him more time to recover with the Tigers' bye week following the Kentucky game.
ESPN's Edward Aschoff also asks the same question, citing Missouri still has quite a bit to play for — and "in this league, no victory is truly a given."
A lot of Missouri's success this season has been because of the play from the offensive and defensive linemen — and they continue to garner recognition late into the season.
Offensive lineman Justin Britt was named this week's SEC Offensive Lineman of the Week. Meanwhile, defensive lineman Michael Sam was named one of the 10 best defensive players of 2013 by Bruce Feldman of CBS Sports.
Missouri defensive lineman Kony Ealy, left, and Michael Sam team up to sack Florida quarterback Tyler Murphy on Oct. 19. (PHOTO: QUINT SMITH/Missourian)
On facing DE Michael Sam: "He's just a very good football player. … I love the way he plays. He's very explosive."— Jen Smith (@jenheraldleader) November 6, 2013
In addition to Michael Sam, Kentrell Brothers and Kony Ealy, plenty of other linemen have helped the Tigers become one of the top SEC defenses, Tod Palmer of The Kansas City Star writes.
One of those lesser known lineman is Marvin Foster, who suffered a torn biceps tendon against Tennessee and will be out for the season. Foster battled many injuries in his career, but "persevered and contributed to the Tigers' turnaround," Palmer writes.
Kentucky has struggled this season in the SEC under new head coach Mark Stoops. The Wildcats are just 2-6 and winless in the SEC, with victories coming against Miami (OH) and Alabama State.
Kentucky's defense has also had a tough time this year, especially with giving up big plays, as seen below against Mississippi State.
Missouri's wide receivers are also expected to give Kentucky's secondary fits on Saturday, writes Jennifer Smith of the Lexington Herald-Leader. On the other side of the ball, the Wildcats will be missing two of their top three receivers Saturday, Smith writes.
The Wildcats have often found themselves at the bottom of the SEC. Mark Story of the Lexington Herald-Leader writes if the Wildcats want to get out of the rut, they need to start performing better against the teams they play every year — starting with Missouri.
Supervising editor is Frank Russell.