Campus Corner

Missouri mailbag: Projecting the SEC East standings

South Carolina’s Steve Spurrier.
South Carolina’s Steve Spurrier. The Associated Press

When Missouri plays at South Carolina on Saturday night, two of the top six active coaches in wins will square off at Williams-Brice Stadium.

Gamecocks coach Steve Spurrier is 222-80-2 in 25 seasons at Duke, Florida and South Carolina. He ranks second behind Virginia Tech’s Frank Beamer (268-134-4) on the list for career victories among active coaches.

Meanwhile, Tigers coach Gary Pinkel checks in sixth at 178-101-3 in 24 seasons at Toledo and Missouri. He has the most wins at both schools.

Pinkel is behind Beamer, Spurrier, Notre Dame’s Brian Kelly (210-71-2), Texas State’s Dennis Franchione (204-123-2) and Kansas State’s Bill Snyder (179-90-1).

Of course, neither coach’s resume is going to impact the game, which could prove pivotal in the SEC East division.

“This is a huge game for both Missouri and us to try and stay in the East division race,” Spurrier said Wednesday during the SEC’s weekly teleconference.

He also said it’s too early to worry about the conference race quite yet.

“We’ll worry about all the division stuff, SEC stuff, later in the year if we’re in a position to worry about it,” Spurrier said.

South Carolina was picked to win the division in the preseason SEC media poll and already knocked off Georgia, but Spurrier seems legitimately concerned about Missouri.

“It’s a very good team, well-coached and all that stuff,” Spurrier said. “Coach Pinkel and his staff do about as good a job as anybody, so it will be a difficult game for us. Hopefully, we’ll be ready to play.”

That leads us to your questions:

Shoey, I predicted Missouri would go 9-3 before the season — with losses at South Carolina, home to Georgia and at Texas A&M. Obviously, that prediction was wrong, so I’ll have to revise my expectation to 8-4 now. Missouri, of course, could prove me wrong again, but I’m sticking with my 5-3 prediction in conference play.

That probably leaves them third in the SEC East behind South Carolina and Georgia. Both the Gamecocks and Bulldogs must play Auburn later in the season, so I suspect each finishes 6-2 in conference. South Carolina’s game is at Auburn, making it tougher as Georgia gets those Tigers at home. If Missouri can pick off South Carolina or Georgia, a repeat becomes a realistic opportunity. These next two games (in three weeks with Missouri’s Oct. 4 bye) will shape the final standings.

If Georgia or South Carolina were to upend Auburn, that team probably wins the division at 7-1. Otherwise, the Gamecocks would get the tiebreaker if both teams finish 6-2 by virtue of a 38-35 head-to-head win.

Florida was picked to finish ahead of Missouri in the preseason polls, but I think that was wishful thinking and force of habit on the part of the SEC media. The Tigers, despite the loss to Indiana, remain the third best team in the SEC East division. The Gators have issues at quarterback and on defense, while Tennessee and Kentucky are at least a year away from making a potential jump, in my opinion. Vanderbilt — well, the Commodores are rebuilding.

Michael, yes. I think they would. The loss was early enough in the season, I think the committee would see past it, especially if Missouri wins at South Carolina, beats Georgia, wins at Florida and wins at Texas A&M. Wins against Tennessee, which played Oklahoma relatively tough, and Arkansas, which is better than people realize, wouldn’t hurt their case either.

Now, how likely is that? I’ll just say it’s an incredibly tall order. It would be stunning for the Tigers to win eight straight and then knock off whoever survives the SEC West blood-letting — Alabama or Auburn or Texas A&M (a second time) or Mississippi State or LSU or Mississippi. Personally, I don’t see it happening. But, if it did, Missouri absolutely would deserve a spot in the inaugural College Football Playoff.

T. Eck, that is a Thursday decision, so you’ll have to wait until after the bye week. Missouri needs to find ways to spend that SEC Network money that will be coming, so you should petition the athletic department to create a new position and apply for it.

Pinkel admitted that he made a mistake not calling a timeout sooner during his postgame remarks. He went even further with his explanation at Monday’s press conference, saying that he expected Indiana coach Kevin Wilson to call a timeout. When it didn’t happen, game officials were a few beats slow to recognize Pinkel calling a timeout. Still, it was Pinkel’s indecision, not the refs, that cost Missouri most of those 20-plus seconds.

“If I knew what he was thinking, I would have done it a lot quicker, and I wish I would have now,” Pinkel said. “That would have been another 20 seconds. That’s my mistake.”

While we’re talking about late-game situations, Tigers offensive coordinator Josh Henson also admitted that he probably out-thought himself on the game’s final play. Missouri, like every team in the nation, practices a Hail Mary play regularly. That is not the play Henson called on the final, desperation play — an untimed down after a Hoosiers roughing-the-passer penalty gifted the Tigers one final chance.

Henson saw Indiana put four defenders at the goal line, expecting a deep heave from quarterback Maty Mauk. He opted for an easier throw to a player running free over the middle of the field, which Missouri thought would be vacated. The idea was to get the ball to a playmaker, in this case Marcus Muprhy, hope a couple of the receivers in the bunch formation that were uncovered could get in front of him for blocking and let Murphy try to shimmy his way the final 10 yards when he finally encountered the Hoosiers’ defense.

Obviously, it didn’t work. Missouri stuck with the play even after Indiana called a timeout, Murphy said, but it’s a decision Henson would change.

“When you see Arizona score, sure,” Henson said. “They lined up the first time and there was such a big hole in the middle of the field. To be honest with you, we have a play that is the play Arizona ran for that situation. We practice it every week. They had four guys back across the goal line and one guy in the middle of the field. What we were hoping is to get somebody going down the middle of the field and maybe have a chance.”

Indiana left three of Missouri’s five wide receivers unguarded on the play.

The thought was to get the ball to a playmaker — in this case, Murphy — in wide-open space with the other two players who weren’t manned up turning into a blocking convoy.

“It didn’t work,” Henson said. “And, honestly … if I could do it again, I’d go back to the play we’d practiced.”

Big and Bad, I have no concrete knowledge that any of the offensive lineman have girlfriends, much less lady friends who bid adieu last week. If it happened, though, clearly those girls were Hoosiers plants — probably by Kevin Wilson, who cooled his seat considerably by beating a ranked team on the road.

But I digress.

The offensive line is working through enough on the field anyway. The blocking schemes implemented by new offensive line coach A.J. Ricker aren’t second nature yet for these guys, which is to be expected since he didn’t join Missouri until mid-July.

That’s part of the problem, but a lack of execution is the bigger issue. The Tigers’ staff is trying to address it by moving junior Connor McGovern back to right guard from right tackle. That decision isn’t as much a commentary on McGovern’s play as much as it’s a recognition that Taylor Chappell is probably one of the team’s five best offensive linemen right now. He’s most comfortable at right tackle; McGovern is a proven commodity at right guard.

Losing Anthony Gatti at left guard hurts, but junior Brad McNulty has experience and played fairly well. Still, across the board from Mitch Morse at left tackle to Evan Boehm and his snap issues, Missouri must get better up front to have any chance of making a run at the SEC East title again.

To reach Tod Palmer, call 816-234-4389 or send email to tpalmer@kcstar.com. Follow him on Twitter at @todpalmer.

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