Missouri has matched its victory total from last season with a 5-0 start, but things could get really interesting with another victory.
Get to 6-0 by beating No. 7 Georgia on Saturday in Athens and a world of possibilities opens up for the Tigers, who remain little more than a national curiosity as the bar for their season seems to rise each week.
After Missouri handled Murray State and pulled away from Toledo in its first two games, Indiana was supposed to provide a gauge of how good the Tigers could be. Then they crushed the Hoosiers.
Wrapping up the nonconference schedule against Arkansas State a week later, Missouri didn’t put away the Red Wolves until midway through the fourth quarter, providing fuel for the team’s detractors.
Talk then shifted to Missouri’s Southeastern Conference opener at Vanderbilt being the real barometer, but doubt still seems to linger even after the Tigers aced that test.
Missouri, which jumped into The Associated Press poll at No. 25 but remains unranked in the USA Today coaches poll, doesn’t mind.
“We love being the underdogs and love having people still wondering about us and if this team is as good as we’re showing up to be,” junior running back Henry Josey said.
If the Tigers were to upset the Bulldogs, 4-1, it would be impossible to dismiss coach Gary Pinkel’s team anymore — not that he particularly cares.
“People will have their analysis about what the game’s about and have their judgments, but that has nothing to do with us playing football,” Pinkel said. “That doesn’t help a guy block better or catch better, throw better or tackle better. We’ve got to focus on ourselves.”
Georgia is widely considered the favorite to win the SEC East and play in the conference title game Dec. 7 in the Georgia Dome, but Missouri is eager to throw itself into that conversation.
“We’re focused on the smaller picture — the Georgia game and then the Florida game,” senior wide receiver L’Damian Washington said. “We know if you take care of the small things, the big things will come. Overall, the goal is the SEC championship.”
Crazy as it sounds after limping through its first season in the SEC and failing to make a bowl game for the first time since 2004, that’s what this game represents for Missouri.
“We understand that (Georgia is) one of the best teams we’ll play all year, but we’re excited about the opportunity,” Pinkel said.
Missouri is catching a wounded Georgia team that lost its top two wide receivers last week and might be without its top two running backs as well.
Plus, the Bulldogs’ defense has been leaky, which could be significant against a potent Tigers attack that ranks seventh in the nation in total offense (543.8) and eighth in scoring offense (46.6).