COLUMBIA — When Missouri decided to join the Southeastern Conference, many detractors howled that the Tigers wouldn’t be able to hack it in the nation’s toughest football conference.
By TOD PALMER
The Kansas City Star
Going 2-6 in SEC play last season didn’t do much to silence those critics.
There are myriad reasons that might excuse the sub-par showing, including a laundry list of injuries that would have tested Missouri’s depth and affected the final record regardless of conference affiliation.
Still, the Tigers, 4-0, don’t want to lean on excuses — no matter how valid they are.
As Missouri prepares to open its second season of SEC football against Vanderbilt at 6:30 p.m. Saturday night in Nashville, Tenn., the eagerness for a run at redemption is palpable.
“We’re so excited, dude,” senior Max Copeland said. “We’re thrilled. This is where we want to be. This is where we think we deserve to be. And we’re getting an opportunity to prove that we deserve to be at this level.”
Among the Tigers’ most disappointing conference losses in 2012 was a 19-15 home stunner against Vanderbilt.
Missouri lost quarterback James Franklin to a knee sprain and, despite outgaining the Commodores from scrimmage by 100 yards, came up short thanks to special teams gaffes and ill-timed turnovers.
Several Tigers cited revenge as a motive heading into Vanderbilt, an indication that last season’s loss haunts coach Gary Pinkel’s program.
“I’d be lying if I said that feeling wasn’t there, because it is,” Copeland said. “But at the same time, we can’t let vengeance be a distraction. This is about the 2013 season; it ain’t about the 2012 season. At the same time, I’d be lying if I said that feeling wasn’t there at least a little bit.”
This season, Missouri fattened up on small-conference competition and an Indiana team that perennially finishes in the bottom half of the Big Ten, so the Tigers understand the schedule is about to get much tougher.
“Listen, these guys are not idiots and they all know what’s ahead of them,” first-year offensive coordinator Josh Henson said. “We know what we’ve got to do, and I think we’re up to the challenge.”
In fact, Missouri welcomes the challenge.
“We’ve been waiting for this since last year,” senior left tackle Justin Britt said. “It’s our second year in the conference and there’s a bunch of great teams and good athletes. It’s going to be a tough year, but we wouldn’t want it any different.”
Those same critics are out there still, but Missouri believes it’s poised to make a move up the SEC food chain with a road win against the Commodores.
“Yeah, we do (have a chip on our shoulder), because a lot of people doubted us last year and probably still do, so we have a lot to prove,” sophomore running back Russell Hansbrough said.
More importantly, the Tigers have a chance to build off the momentum from a four-game sweep in non-conference play by starting off the SEC slate with another win.
“We don’t see it as we owe them one,” quarterback James Franklin said. “We just want to go in and try to get the win so we can be 5-0.”
To reach Tod Palmer, call 816-234-4389 or send email to email@example.com. Follow him at twitter.com/todpalmer.