Missouri feels it has earned more respect

Evan Boehm and some Missouri teammates on Tuesday were watching either ESPN or the SEC Network – he couldn’t remember which – when they saw something that flummoxed them.

“It said: ‘Missouri, the Cinderella team from last year.’ You go 12-2 and 11-3 and you’re still a Cinderella team?” Boehm said. “That’s fine with us. People can keep doubting.”

The doubting does seem to be continuing, with Georgia and Tennessee generating the most buzz as SEC East favorites. The media predictions are due out Thursday morning.

Missouri coach Gary Pinkel claimed not to know where his team was picked the past two years. Bob Holt, the quick-acting Arkansas beat writer, informed Pinkel the Tigers were picked sixth in 2013 and fourth last year.

“Is that right?” Pinkel said, smiling. “That upsets me.”

It doesn’t, actually, to hear it from his players, who admit to being perturbed about it. They understood it two years ago, but after winning two straight division titles they think some respect has been earned.

“I just feel like they’ve not picked us the last two years and those are the years we’ve been there. So that’s probably the reason we need to be at the top,” senior defensive back Keyna Dennis said.

“When you win the SEC in back-to-back years and you’re still being projected third or fourth or fifth or sixth it gives you a little bit more motivation to work harder,” Boehm said. “But at the same time coach Pinkel does his thing and his coaching staff just keep our minds off it.”

There are plenty of reasons to believe in Missouri again. It’s one of the few SEC teams with a returning quarterback, junior Maty Mauk. It has an experienced offensive line. And for all the talent it’s lost on the defensive line, it lost a lot after the 2013 season and did just fine.

But this year’s team just took a new hit, with defensive tackle Harold Brantley set to miss the season. Pinkel confirmed the news on Wednesday. That will leave the defense with five returning starters.

Still, Pinkel sounded like a coach who has settled in, saying: “We just kind of do what we do at Mizzou right now.” That would have sounded ludicrous before the 2013 season. Now it sounds like the right move.

“We try to get better about five percent a year,” Pinkel said. “We’re not going to change a lot of things because what we do works.”