COLUMBIA — The Missouri football team’s next opponent, Arkansas, is a member of the Southeastern Conference. The Cotton Bowl matchup presents the Tigers with a chance to defeat a representative of a conference many say is college football’s best.
The SEC boasts Florida, the defending national champion, LSU, which is playing for this year’s national championship, and Tim Tebow, the Heisman Trophy winner. Taking that into account, Missouri players and coaches say the SEC’s reputation is deserved.
“It’s a really good conference,” MU coach Gary Pinkel said. “It is a difficult league to play in from top to bottom every year and is just really well-respected.”
The SEC has three teams ranked in the Associated Press top 10. Only one other conference can claim that: the Big 12.
“They’ve (the SEC) got some good teams ... but they might be a little overhyped,” tight end Chase Coffman said. “But I guess we’ll see when we play them on the field.”
A number of Tigers players said the Big 12’s performance this season got less attention than the SEC’s superiority.
“That’s probably how a lot of commentators and spectators look at it, and it’s possible that people overlooked MU,” receiver Will Franklin said. “Now they can see that the conference is more than Oklahoma, Texas and Nebraska.”
Some say those teams were the only viable ones in the Big 12 before this season. A victory in the Cotton Bowl can change that according to Missouri’s players.
“I think the Big 12 has kind of been lost in the shuffle, but that’s when you need to keep going out there and proving yourself,” receiver Jeremy Maclin said. “You have to go out there and get respect, and we have the potential to do that.”
Missouri is 3-1 in its past four games against SEC opponents, including a victory against Ole Miss this season and a 2005 Independence Bowl win against South Carolina.
The one loss is a 27-14 defeat in the 2003 Independence Bowl to Arkansas. Tight end Martin Rucker was a part of the team for all four of those SEC games and isn’t putting much stock into what others say about the SEC’s dominance. The Razorbacks have beat some talented teams this year, most recently a victory over then top-ranked LSU, but Rucker and other Missouri players say they have something Arkansas hasn’t seen before.
“I don’t think they have seen too many teams spread the ball around like we do,” Rucker said. “You can’t key just two or three guys because there will be more that can step up.”
Franklin has seen the Razorbacks struggle against spread offenses in games against Troy and North Texas and says that gives Missouri the upper hand.
“We won’t be scratching our heads like they will,” he said. “They have had trouble against spread offenses, and they haven’t seen offenses like ours in the SEC. Florida is close, but they still run the ball a lot. They haven’t seen an offense like this one.”
BRACEY SUSPENDED: Senior Missouri wide receiver Greg Bracey was suspended for the Cotton Bowl according to Pinkel, who cited “disciplinary reasons” for the suspension that will end Bracey’s career as a Tiger.
FIVE FILE WITH NFL: Five Missouri underclassmen filed papers for an evaluation by the NFL on Monday. Quarterback Chase Daniel, tight end Chase Coffman, safety William Moore, defensive tackle Ziggy Hood and defensive end Stryker Sulak all filed with the league on Monday, but can still choose to return to school.