Ranking won't throw off Tigers

It seems like a date with tragedy. A new national ranking. A big conference game a week later to take the focus away. All of the ingredients are there for the Tigers to come in overconfident against Middle Tennessee State (0-3) on Saturday at 1 p.m., but see how Gary Pinkel won't let those ingredients mix together.

Even when his team gets ranked, the phone at Gary Pinkel's house doesn't ring much. But the mailbox for his e-mail starts filling up.

"(My friends) generally don't call me personally, because they know what I'm going to say," Pinkel said. "So they contact me in other ways, and I can zap it off the screen and erase it as they start talking."

As Missouri heads into its final nonconference game Saturday against Middle Tennessee State, the No. 23 Tigers are ranked for the first time since 1998. Don't expect Pinkel to care, though.

"I think it's okay," Pinkel said. "I think our fans get a kick out of that, which is good. The key is to stay there and get a better ranking."

The ranking seems to come at a dubious time. After the Tigers squeaked out a win against Illinois in the opener, they have blown out Ball State and Division 1-AA opponent Eastern Illinois. Now comes Middle Tennessee State, which enters 3-0.

The Blue Raiders can't be faulted for scheduling easy, though. After losing 20-19 to Florida Atlantic in its opener, Middle Tennessee went on the road to then-No. 8 Georgia and then to Clemson. The Blue Raiders kept each game close through the first half.

"They played Georgia; they played them well," Pinkel said. "Georgia's a top ten football team. If you look at the tap, I'm very impressed with how they played them."

Quarterback Andrico Hines leads the Blue Raiders. He has cleted 63.5 percent of his passes and has gone 87 straight passing attempts without an interception.

"This is the probably the best athlete we'll play, without question, at quarterback this year," Pinkel said. "He's got great quickness, great speed. They run the option with him at times. He handles the offense, actually a lot of it, on the line of scrimmage where he calls plays."

So with the athletic and battle-tested Blue Raiders coming into town, Pinkel said he has to make sure he doesn't see any kind of unnecessary swagger coming from the newly-ranked Tigers.

"I would suggest it will be my assumption that we won't handly it well, and I'll do everything this week based on that," Pinkel said on Monday. "That's my preparation. We look for all those things to see that a player's focus, concentration, to get any type of red flag to see that a player is maybe not focusing like he should, that he's getting caught up in a ll the hype that's going on. I think as your program matures, it's not a big deal."

Then again, the ranking might not even mean that much to the Missouri players. It seems all that matters is not coming out with a loss on Saturday.

"Being ranked No. 23 isn't that great," Thomson Omboga said. "I would rather have myself in the top five. So being ranked 23rd, that isn't really nothing. I'm not going to pay attention until we get more respect.

"Being ranked, we're not going to focus too much on that. We're going to focus on becoming a better team."


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