As well they should, the accolades are cascading down now over the Missouri football program.
By VAHE GREGORIAN
The Kansas City Star
Defensive end Michael Sam became MUs first conference defender of the year since 1981 this week when he was chosen SEC defensive player of the year by voters for The Associated Press, demonstrating his play could say plenty enough without him needing to speak to the media, too.
A year after a dud conference debut season in which only one Tiger (Sheldon Richardson) was recognized as all-SEC, three other Tigers were similarly honored: cornerback E.J. Gaines, defensive end Kony Ealy and offensive tackle Justin Britt were first-team All-SEC.
For engineering a turnaround from 5-7 to 11-2 and an SEC East championship, coach Gary Pinkel was chosen as a regional coach of the year by the American Football Coaches Association on Wednesday. Hes also one of eight finalists for the Eddie Robinson National Coach of the Year award given by the Football Writers Association of America.
But for plenty of reasons, all these good vibes require an exclamation point in the Cotton Bowl for the season to have real resonance after MUs 59-42 loss to Auburn in the SEC championship game.
Mizzou obviously has nothing to apologize for about its revitalizing year, but there sure is something to be redeemed for its hapless defensive play and strange refusal to shake up the coaching approach as Auburn was rushing unbridled for 545 yards.
Really, it was ridiculous.
I bore witness to Kansas Tony Sands setting a then-Division I-A (FBS) record with 396 yards against MU in 1991, and I saw Navy prance for 385 yards against MU in the 2009 Texas Bowl. Mizzou looked helpless in those games, but I dont believe it looked more befuddled.
Against Auburn, it wasnt so much that Missouri was missing tackles as it was that the Tigers often werent even close enough to flail at Auburns Tre Mason (304 yards) and Nick Marshall (101 yards) before they had zoomed for big plays.
But making up for that isnt the only reason Mizzou needs to beat Oklahoma State on Jan. 3 to make this season stand as one of the best in school history (matching its record of 12 wins) and make a declaration for national respect that Pinkel so craves.
To some degree beyond the BCS National Championship Game, bowl games are just gravy.
Not this one.
Pinkel now is 0-3 in conference championship games, with his teams giving up 159 points along the way, and hes 4-4 in bowls at MU.
So for all his considerable accomplishments at Missouri, where he is tied with Don Faurot for the most wins in school history with 101, his teams have had their share of thuds in the postseason. For all the Novembers to remember, Decembers have been more forgettable.
Now, its also worth noting that two of his MU bowl wins came after Big 12 conference title game thumpings by Oklahoma, so theres reason to believe that resilience can be here now, too.
Yet theres also reason to believe Missouri will need all of that and more against the 10-2 Cowboys, which, like MU, went into their game last Saturday with a chance to win a conference title only to fall short.
That wasnt just any conference title, of course, but the Big 12 title.
And even if no one is saying it publicly, at least not yet, dont think that Missouris defection to the SEC from the Big 12 wont loom large over this game.
In MUs first football game against a former conference foe, its Oklahoma States chance to make a statement about the endless hype ladled over the SEC, which via Auburn has a chance to win an eighth straight national title.
More directly, its also Oklahoma States moment to try to show Missouri where it might have fit in the Big 12 this season.
Mizzou needs to withstand that and atone for the Auburn game and win this one, lest it go into the offseason with two straight losses that scrape some luster off an otherwise terrific season.
To reach Vahe Gregorian, call 816-234-4868 or send email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @vgregorian. For previous columns, go to KansasCity.com.