"The Nebraska win was big for our program," said Pinkel during day one of Big 12 media days in Kansas City. "I also think it was a big win based on the history of our program. When you haven't beaten a team for 25 years, that makes it even bigger.
"But you've got to win more than one game like that in a season, and we weren't able to play at that level the entire season. We still have a long ways to go to get to where we want. We can certainly do better than eight wins. We want to take the next step. We want to build a national program that can compete at a high level year after year."
At least the Tigers will have Smith returning to the mix. The junior rushed for a team-high 1,406 yards while passing for nearly 2,000 yards last season on 211-of-350 completions. He scored 29 total touchdowns. Now, with the Big 12's North Division totally up for grabs, Smith is being looked at as the piece that can put Mizzou on top.
Again, consistency is the key for the Tiger quarterback.
"He's had a remarkable two years of college football," Pinkel said. "It's nice to have your name thrown in (to the Heisman race), but two things have to happen if you want to be there. You have to stay in the race and he has to play at a high level every single week. That's a challenge to him. It's a great honor for him and the University of Missouri to be mentioned."
On the defensive
In hopes of sparking a defense that gave up more than 21 points in nine of 13 games last season, the Tigers have changed their approach. Instead of the base 5-2 look they have gone with, they will now go with a 4-3 front. The switch gives Pinkel's team more looks on the defensive side of the ball.
"Defensively, compared to our first two years, we made some big strides. Hopefully we get better there. We were a better football team last year because of our defense, and hopefully we can take that next step. I think personnel-wise this change maybe fit us better with the younger guys we have in the program. Scheme-wise, it's really multiple and we can do more things with our defense. It will certainly allow us to be more multiple."
Linebacker James Kinney, a first-team All-Big 12 performer last season after making 144 tackles, made the trip with Pinkel and Smith, and says the defense has adjusted to the changes well.
"We came together really well in the spring," he said. "We've got a lot of starters coming back. I think we'll make a lot of strides from last year. This scheme will be a little bit better against the run."