Missouri senior wide receiver Marcus Lucas insists that he didn’t watch the BCS Countdown show and coach Gary Pinkel said he learned that the Tigers were ranked fifth in the nation via text messages from friends.
Of course, with each win, the attention (and potential distraction) grows, even if Missouri is trying hard to ignore the building hype.
“It’s obvious our team’s got to deal with it,” Pinkel said. “They go from two weeks ago not dealing with anything and now all the sudden there’s a lot of things out there. I would suggest the more they look at those things, the less focus they will have as a player and we’ll have as a football team. … I don’t care if you glance at it or look at it once, but if you’re sitting there waiting for ESPN to come on and say nice things about Mizzou, those are things we have to deal with.”
Besides, No. 5 isn’t No. 1.
“Everyone wants to be No. 1 and there’s still a chip on our shoulder,” Lucas said. “Obviously, we haven’t proved to everyone what we’re capable of, so we’ve got to keep working.”
Missouri, 7-0 and 3-0 in the SEC, has enjoyed a remarkable turnaround from last year’s 5-7 finish, but that doesn’t mean the Tigers and their coaches are satisfied with the season yet.
“No. 5 in the nation is just a number,” senior left tackle Justin Britt said. “It’s not a promise. We’ve still got to play the rest of the year, and South Carolina is game eight. It’s just one step at a time.”
While the conversation nationally and among fans labels Missouri as one of the season’s biggest and most pleasant surprises, the conversation amongst the Tigers is completely different.
“We expected to be here,” junior defensive tackle Lucas Vincent said. “We worked for this. Every morning, 6 a.m. in the winter, every spring ball practice, every morning in the summer — we worked for this. We looked at our schedule and we said, ‘We do not see a game that we will lose on here.’ There’s no limit for us. We’re just going to keep going. We haven’t played our best game yet. And we’re not going to play our best game until January.”
Of course, Missouri can take another massive step toward playing in January on Saturday at Memorial Stadium, where the Tigers entertain No. 20 South Carolina at 6 p.m.
For an inside look at the Gamecocks, we asked Josh Kendall — who is the South Carolina football beat writer for GoGamecocks.com at The State newspaper in Columbia, S.C. — to answer a few questions, and he obliged. Readhis work here and follow Kendall on Twitter
• What should people expect from Dylan Thompson and how does the South Carolina offense change with him at the helm?
South Carolina fans wish they knew what to expect from him. He was mostly great in fill-in duty last year, but he looked shaky in his only extended appearance this year (vs. UCF). Overall, he isn’t completing 60 percent of his passes and has as many interceptions as touchdowns this year. The good news for South Carolina is this week closely parallels the final game of last season when Thompson knew he was going to start against Clemson on the road and went out and threw three touchdowns in a win. Thompson is on record saying he feels a lot more comfortable when he knows he’ll be starting the game. He is not the running threat Shaw is, but he does a good job usually of getting the ball out of his hands quickly.
• During Wednesday’s teleconference, Steve Spurrier said Connor Shaw’s knee injury wasn’t as bad as originally thought and indicated he might suit up Saturday, but how much of that is smoke? Is it strictly gamesmanship on Spurrier’s part or might we see Shaw play?
It’s tough at this point to rule Shaw out. He’s shown Wolverine-like healing ability and is probably the toughest kid on the team. That being said, Spurrier said Wednesday that he couldn’t imagine a scenario where Shaw starts this game. However, he probably will dress and, if Thompson is a disaster, it wouldn’t shock me to see Shaw in the game at some point.
• There seems to be a feeling, at least according to some national outlets, that Jadeveon Clowney is having a disappointing season, but is that fair?
Not entirely. He has not had the same production certainly, and there have been some red flags. He wasn’t in good enough shape to begin the season. He did have a laundry list of what could be seen as excuses. All of that said, though, he’s still been very good. It’s just that he hasn’t been the best defensive player in college football, which everyone sort of assumed he would be. He played his best game of the year against Tennessee and Tiny Richardson, which was a combination of Tennessee running a lot of plays his way in the first half and Clowney’s motivation to prove he could get the best of Richardson. I think Clowney’s production could be a week-to-week thing the rest of the season. The problem for an opponent is he can be quiet for a long time and then wreck your day with one huge play.
• How vulnerable is the Gamecocks’ run defense?
There are concerns about every part of South Carolina’s run defense. The linebackers are young and are progressing very slowly. Folks who have rushed to the second level haven’t had much trouble getting on to third level, so yes that's a big concern for the Gamecocks. South Carolina is very hopeful (defensive) tackle Kelcy Quarles can play and play a lot.
• Does South Carolina believe it’s the underdog coming to “the other Columbia” or is there still a healthy bit of skepticism about undefeated Missouri?
I just don’t know. We’ve asked all those questions and they say the right things, but I’m a big believer that you don’t really know until you see how a team plays in the first quarter.