If Missouri is a consensus pick to make a run at the Big 12 Conference title next season, it did not affect how coach Gary Pinkel ran his spring practices.
In a conference call Monday, Pinkel said picking the Tigers to win the Big 12 or ranking them in the top 25 would mean only that national respect for Missouri has grown in the past year.
Pinkel said he thinks his team could make a conference title run, but said the Tigers will need to become more mentally tough in big games.
“In the maturity level and preparation, being able to play at a high level each and every week, I don’t think we did very well at all (last year),” Pinkel said. “This is, ‘Can you bring it at the highest level each and every week?’ which you have to do in this league if you want to compete for a championship.”
Missouri finished third in the Big 12 North last season at 4-4. Despite having its first winning season under Pinkel at 8-5, Missouri lost a number of high-profile games, including a 35-14 loss at Kansas and a 27-14 loss to Arkansas in the Independence Bowl.
The Tigers finished spring practice last week, and Pinkel said he was satisfied with the results.
“The strength and quickness of our team has improved better than it’s been since we’ve been here,” Pinkel said. “I think we’re making progress, and we certainly have a long way to go.”
“If we decide to do that we have to make sure that our depth is developed … so if one guy gets a little nicked up you can still use the set and justify putting all the time into doing it right,” Pinkel said.
Missouri begins practice again in August, when freshmen and junior college transfers will join the team. Although Pinkel and his staff will not go into practices expecting new players to make an immediate impact, they are always looking for players to break out.
“If you have some young players that come in … and you want them to compete and they play at that kind of level, Xzavie Jackson did that for us a year ago, and then (Brad) Ekwerekwu, then you let those guys kind of filter in,” Pinkel said.