Missouri doesn’t belong in the SEC. The Tigers can’t hang with the upper echelon teams in college football’s premier conference. That’s all Gary Pinkel’s team heard last offseason after they finished 5-7 with just two league wins.
But the Tigers can hang. They proved that and more this season. They finished 12-1, 7-1 in conference, and earned a trip to Atlanta for the SEC championship game after winning the East. It was only their second year in the league, but they proved they’re a legitimate contender.
Despite a 59-42 loss to Auburn in the SEC title game, Missouri responded to knock off Oklahoma State in the AT&T Cotton Bowl and finish No. 5 in the final AP poll.
Offensive MVP: If you’re looking for the comeback player of the year, look no further than Columbia, Mo., and running back Henry Josey. The Mizzou star suffered a devastating knee injury two years ago, forcing him to miss all of last year, but he returned this season to post 1,166 yards and 16 touchdowns. Now he’s on his way to the NFL after declaring for the draft a year early.
Defensive MVP: The obvious choice is defensive end Michael Sam, who led the SEC with 11.5 sacks, but fellow end Kony Ealy, who played better down the stretch, and cornerback E.J. Gaines are worthy candidates, too. Still, it has to be Sam. He went from being a three-star prospect nobody had heard of to one of the league’s most dominant players on defense. He had three sacks in three different games. The SEC quarterbacks will be glad he’s graduating.
Best moment: As special as Josey’s first touchdown run was, his first since the injury, it was his touchdown run against Texas A&M in the regular season finale that was the most memorable for Missouri fans. The Tigers and Aggies were tied with less than five minutes left. A win clinched the SEC East. A loss and there was no trip to Atlanta. Josey broke free and took it 57 yards to the house, scoring the game-winning touchdown. Chaos ensued after the game as fans rushed the field to celebrate the win and the division title.
Worst moment: The stakes wouldn’t have been as high for that Texas A&M game if not for an epic collapse against South Carolina earlier in the season. Missouri was at home, playing in prime time and surrendered a 17-point lead in the fourth quarter before losing in double overtime to the Gamecocks. Whether it was the fourth-and-goal South Carolina converted in the first overtime or the missed field goal in the second overtime, it’s a game the Tigers would like to forget.