Following their bye week, the Missouri Tigers have turned their attention to finishing what they started. The Tigers sit at 9-1 overall, with a #8 ranking in the current BCS Standings, and at 5-1 in league play, they sit atop the SEC East Division standings. South Carolina completed their conference season at 6-2 and the Gamecocks hold the head-to-head tie-breaker over Missouri, the result of last month's 27-24 double-overtime victory at Missouri. So, the Tigers know what they have to do if they are to capture their first SEC division title and play in Atlanta on December 7th. The Tigers have control over the division race, but there is no margin for error as Missouri prepares to face #24 Ole Miss in Oxford, and #12 Texas A&M at home.
The bye week came at a good time for Missouri, as the Tigers needed a break from their rigorous schedule, and they should head down the stretch about as healthy as they've been all season.
"Our football team is excited to get back to competing," said Missouri Head Coach Gary Pinkel.
Perhaps most importantly from a health standpoint, Missouri regains their starting QB, in James Franklin, who as Coach Pinkel has described it, prior to Franklin's injury, was "playing at a very high level".
In fact, Franklin was having a season that approaches the best by a QB in Missouri history. To this point in the season, Franklin has a single-season passer efficiency rating of 156.24, which is the second-highest single-season mark in school history, not far behind Chase Daniel's 2008 school-record mark of 159.4. On the season, Franklin is 132-195-3 (67.7%) for 1577 yards and 14 TDs. He's almost certain to finish his Missouri career as the school's second-most efficient passer, again behind Daniel. But more importantly than individual records, Franklin gives this Missouri team their best chance to win games.
"He looks really good," said Coach Pinkel, speaking of his senior QB. "He looks just like he did when he left off."
On Monday, Franklin told me that he feels 100% healthy.
"I feel really good," said Franklin. "Definitely, it was frustrating being out. But, I'm glad to be back, and to be able to help the team possibly get three or four more wins and finish out the season pretty good. It's just really exciting! It's a good feeling being back, and I'm excited about it."
The Tigers returned to the practice field on Sunday with the opportunity in front of them to achieve all of their goals for this season. This is a special team, Coach Pinkel's most talented team to date, and a team that exhibits tremendous team chemistry and outstanding leadership.
Everyone appears to be healthy and ready to play this week. There is an air of resolute purpose and confidence around the football program this week. This is a team that knows how to prepare for football games, and this week, it's business as usual.
"We call it getting back to the grind, getting back to preparing, and doing the right thing each and every day," explained Coach Pinkel. "We're going to play a really, really good team (this week). And you know what? When you're in the hunt, like we are now, that's what you expect. We expect to play games like this. Our whole thing is still to focus on playing our best football game, and do the things right every day."