Missouri is one win away from bowl eligibility.
Only 60 minutes against Vanderbilt stand between the Tigers and a postseason berth for the ninth time in the last 10 seasons.
A victory would ensure a 10th bowl appearance in Pinkel’s 14 seasons at Missouri’s helm.
Pretty good stuff, considering that it wasn’t that long ago — 1983-97 — that the Tigers went 14 seasons between bowl berths.
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That’s something to look forward too, huh? Or maybe not.
“I don’t ever talk about that,” Missouri coach Gary Pinkel said. “This is an important game because it’s the next game. We need to win two games in a row and get some momentum going.”
Even after tangling with the Commodores, the Tigers, 5-2 and 2-1 in the Southeastern Conference, will still have one-third of the regular season remaining.
Missouri also remains in the thick of the SEC Eastern Division chase, sitting in second place behind Georgia.
Pinkel can be forgiven for not wanting to think ahead to December.
“We’ve got to play well,” he said. “That’s all I care about is us playing well. That’s your best shot at winning a football game, and I don’t care who we’re playing. It doesn’t matter if it’s Vanderbilt or who. It’s the same thing.”
Still, Missouri’s players understand that Saturday presents an opportunity. Gaining bowl eligibility, after all, is a signpost for a quality season.
“We take it one week at a time,” senior left tackle Mitch Morse said. “Of course, we’ll be excited we’re going to a bowl game, but then our focus will be on the next week after that and the week after that. But it’s definitely a step in the right direction for us. … Each week we want to win, so if bowl eligibility comes this week then it comes this week. We would have liked to have it last week.”
Vanderbilt at Missouri
WHEN: 3 p.m. Saturday
WHERE: Memorial Stadium, Columbia
TV: SEC Network
Other story lines
▪ BULL’S-EYE BAGGETT: Since missing his first two kicks of the season against South Dakota State, junior kicker Andrew Baggett, a Lee’s Summit North graduate, has made six of his last seven field goals. The only miss for Baggett in the last six games was a 48-yard try in the first quarter at South Carolina, which would have been a career long. Baggett, who is perfect on 27 extra-point tries, also ranks 18th in the nation in touchback percentage.
▪ BRINSER’S PRECISION: Senior punter Christian Brinser, a Liberty graduate, is tied for third in the SEC with 14 punts dropped inside the 20 this season. He also ranks third in touchback percentage with only 2.4 percent of his boots — one in 41 — bounding into the end zone.
▪ RAMPAGING RAY: Once again this season, Missouri has the SEC’s leader in sacks and tackles for a loss. Last season, it was unanimous All-American Michael Sam, but now it’s junior defense end Shane Ray, a Bishop Miege graduate, who ranks third in the nation in both sacks (10) and tackles for a loss (14).