COLUMBIA, Mo. (CBSMiami) – The Southeastern Conference eastern division championship used to go through Gainesville or Athens, Georgia, but this year after two big division victories; the road to the SEC Championship goes through Columbia.
Not Columbia, South Carolina, but rather Columbia, Missouri.
The Missouri Tigers (7-0, 3-0) are one of only two undefeated teams left in the Southeastern Conference and can effectively clinch a berth in the 2013 SEC Championship game with a victory on Saturday against the South Carolina Gamecocks.
The Tigers have gotten to this point by knocking off the Georgia Bulldogs in Athens and then throttling Florida last Saturday. As a result of countless upsets and its improving record, the Tigers have reached fifth in the latest Bowl Championship Series rankings.
Most felt the Tigers would once again be overwhelmed in the SEC East after last season’s disappointing 5-7 finish. Missouri was picked by the media to finish fifth in the Eastern division before the season, but have been steadily throttling opponents each week by double-digits.
The Tigers have scored at least 36 points in every game this season, but the Tigers are performing well on both sides of the ball.
Missouri, which has under head coach Gary Pinkel always, had a prolific offense, is ranked second in the SEC in scoring at 44.3 points per game. The Tigers are also second in the conference in rushing offense, averaging 41 carries and 234.4 yards per game this year.
When the Tigers throw the football, the team averages 279 yards per game and Tiger quarterbacks have thrown 16 touchdowns to just four interceptions in 2013. Overall, Missouri ranks second in total offense per game with 513.4 yards per game, put another way, the Tigers are gaining 6.8 yards per play.
But, after getting knocked around last season, the Tigers have been ferocious on both sides of the line of scrimmage in 2013. The offensive line has had only one player miss a single game in 2013 after losing multiple linemen for the season last year.
Overall, Missouri is ranked fourth in the SEC in scoring defense, allowing just 22.1 points per game. The defensive line, specifically the defensive end position, has become the strength of the Tigers’ defense.
Led by potential All-American candidate, defensive end Michael Sam, the Tigers have been playing meet me at the quarterback all season long. The Tigers lead the SEC in sacks through last weekend’s games with 23, or roughly 3.3 per game.
Sam is currently leading the SEC, and tied for the national lead, with nine sacks on the season. What makes Sam’s sack total more impressive is that it’s come in three games this season, including pulling down three sacks in last weekend’s game against the Gators. Sam also leads the nation in tackles for loss with 13 on the season.
Overall, Missouri ranks second in the conference in tackles for loss with 54 on the season, or roughly 7.71 tackles for loss per game. But it’s not just the defensive ends harassing the quarterback, it’s also the rest of the team.
Missouri leads the SEC and is tied for first in the nation with 14 interceptions on the season. Two Tiger defensive ends have intercepted passes and returned them for touchdowns this season as well. Overall, Missouri’s defense has given up 11 passing touchdowns and snagged 14 interceptions in 2013.
Still, the Tigers have been in this position in the recent past and come up short. Just a few seasons ago, the Tigers started off hot and knocked off then number one ranked Oklahoma only to lose a big game at Nebraska the next week.
Even in the storied 2007 season at Mizzou, the Tigers lost just two games, but both were to Oklahoma and the second lost cost the team a shot at the national championship.
All of it lends to a huge atmosphere for Missouri’s 102nd annual homecoming game on Saturday against Steve Spurrier’s Gamecocks team. If Mizzou is able to pull off a third big victory by beating South Carolina, it will put the Tigers into rare company in school history.
The last time Missouri was 7-0 was in 1962 when the Tigers were 7-0-1. Until last Saturday’s victory over Florida, Missouri hadn’t beaten ranked opponents since 1976. A win by the Tigers on Saturday will push Missouri’s record to 8-0 for the first time since 1960.
It’s been a wild college football season and nothing symbolizes that more than Missouri’s ascension to the top of the SEC East. Just how far Missouri can go this season remains to be seen, but after seven games; the Tigers are on the cusp of a magical season in the SEC.
(Thanks to cfbstats.com for all of the statistics)