SEC: Henry Josey

SEC lunchtime links

May, 9, 2014
May 9
Thursday night's draft was pretty entertaining, but let's not forget that the real entertainment starts next week when the greatest superhero ever returns!

Opening spring camp: Missouri

March, 11, 2014
Mar 11
Schedule: The Tigers begin practice on Tuesday and conclude on April 19 with Missouri’s annual Black and Gold scrimmage inside Memorial Stadium. All of Missouri’s practices are closed to the public.

What’s new: While coach Gary Pinkel did lose a few valuable pieces to his roster, he was able to keep his coaching staff intact for 2014.

On the mend: The Tigers should be relatively healthy entering spring practice. Missouri should get redshirt junior cornerback Ernest Payton back after he tore his ACL just before last season’s opener, causing him to miss the 2013 season. Also, redshirt junior wide receiver J'Mon Moore should be back after a shoulder injury bothered him all last year.

On the move: There could be some movement along the Tigers’ offensive line with starters Justin Britt (left tackle) and Max Copeland (left guard) gone. Keep an eye on starting right tackle Mitch Morse, who could move over to left tackle in order to keep some experience on that side of the line.

New faces: The Tigers have five early enrollees this year. The true freshmen are cornerback Logan Cheadle, offensive lineman Michael Fairchild, linebacker Brandon Lee and quarterback Marvin Zanders. Junior college cornerback Kenya Dennis is also on campus early.

[+] EnlargeDorial Green-Beckham
Mark Zerof/USA TODAY SportsDorial Green-Beckham will be back at Missouri catching passes, but who will step up beside him at wide receiver?
Question marks: Mizzou watched as its secondary was gutted after the 2013 season. Three starters, including All-SEC cornerback E.J. Gaines, are gone, and while the Tigers have bodies to throw on the field this spring, there isn’t a lot of experience. Rising sophomore Aarion Penton started two games in place of Gaines last season and played in all 14 games for the Tigers. He seems primed to take Gaines’ spot, but a gang of players will be vying for the spot opposite him. Look for Duron Singleton and Cortland Browning to compete for the open safety spot.

The loss of receivers L'Damian Washington and Marcus Lucas means that someone needs to step up and help Dorial Green-Beckham. Green-Beckham is capable of being an All-American, but he’ll need assistance from guys such as Bud Sasser, Jimmie Hunt and Darius White. Also, expect some youngsters to compete for more time at receiver. However, the biggest hole on offense might be at left tackle. Redshirt sophomore Jordan Williams, who moved from guard last season, could get the first looks there during camp, but watch out for Moore and Taylor Chappell. The Tigers also need to find a replacement for Andrew Wilson at middle linebacker. Michael Scherer has the most experience inside, but don’t be surprised if Mizzou’s coaches move Kentrell Brothers inside at times, too.

Key battle: Really, just take a look at any of the battles in the secondary. The Tigers ranked last in the SEC in pass defense in 2013, but are losing a lot of experience and one of their best players in Gaines. Having rising senior Braylon Webb back is a plus, but filing three starting spots with a lack of quality experience will be quite the job for defensive coordinator Dave Steckel.

Breaking out: The Tigers certainly would have preferred for running back Henry Josey to stay one more season, but there are plenty of guys vying to be his replacement. The one who could make the biggest splash this spring is rising junior Russell Hansbrough, who was second on the team with 685 rushing yards last season. He also had four rushing touchdowns and averaged 6.0 yards per carry. Hansbrough is explosive, agile and tough to tackle. He can bounce off defenders and has the quickness to make guys miss. He also has the strength to grind out extra yards.

Don’t forget about: Many might point to the losses of defensive ends Michael Sam and Kony Ealy and wonder who the Tigers will turn to. But Mizzou actually should be fine up front, especially with redshirt senior Markus Golden deciding to stay one more year instead of jumping to the NFL early. Because of Sam and Ealy, Golden flew under the radar last season, but he was still able to finish the season with 13 tackles for loss and 6.5 sacks. He also had 55 total tackles and has a chance to be one of the SEC’s top pass rushers.

All eyes on: While Maty Mauk held his own during a month as Mizzou’s starting quarterback last season, everyone will be checking on him to see how he responds this spring. While Pinkel has said that it’s an open competition at quarterback, Mauk clearly has the upper hand and is the favorite to land the starting job. Fans have been itching to see him be the guy, but he won’t have James Franklin to lean on for guidance. Mauk is fully capable of stepping in and impressing (again), but a lot of pressure and hype surround him. He threw for more than 1,000 yards last season and had 11 touchdown passes. He fits Mizzou’s offense as good as anyone and has the moxie and confidence to be a solid leader for this team.

5 burning questions: SEC letdowns

February, 26, 2014
Feb 26
It’s hard to stay on top. Just ask Alabama, which saw its season do a complete 180 after an improbable missed field goal return that stunned college football. Or what about Florida? Two seasons ago, the Gators were playing in a BCS bowl game. Last season, they finished 4-8 and lost to a FCS team for the first time in school history. Georgia and Texas A&M fell victim to letdowns, too, as both came into last season with high expectations.

The SEC is as good a league as there is in college football, and new teams rise to the top every year. The consequence of that is that some teams have to fall.

Last year, it was Auburn and Missouri which rose to the top, knocking some of the traditional powers off their pedestal. Neither team reached a bowl game the year before, but made it to Atlanta and played each other for the conference championship.

Now, as we count down the five most pressing questions facing the SEC this spring, can we expect a letdown from Auburn or Missouri? Will it be their time to fall?

[+] EnlargeNick Marshall
Robert Hanashiro/USA TODAY SportsThe return of QB Nick Marshall gives Auburn hope that it can make another run at the SEC title.
Auburn: Talent-wise, the SEC champions are better off than their title-game counterpart. The Tigers were just three years removed from winning a national championship, and their recruiting classes during that time reflected that. They had the players. They just needed a coach like Gus Malzahn to come in and rejuvenate the program.

Mission accomplished. Auburn nearly won another national championship. This time, however, the Tigers want to stay on top. They don’t want to fall like they did after the 2010 title.

It starts with the quarterback position. The loss of Cam Newton was too much to overcome back then, but fellow junior college signal caller Nick Marshall opted to come back and will do his best to defend Auburn’s conference title next season. He’s already being tabbed as an early candidate for the Heisman Trophy.

The offense will miss running back Tre Mason and left tackle Greg Robinson, but eight starters return to give Marshall a strong supporting cast.

The big question is on defense. Auburn lost five starters from a defense that was suspect to begin with. The good news for the Tigers is that veteran defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson has had a knack for making improvements from Year 1 to Year 2, and this looks to be his latest reclamation project.

The schedule doesn’t do Auburn any favors with trips to Kansas State, Mississippi State, Ole Miss, Georgia and Alabama, but with the talent returning and the current coaching staff, the Tigers should expect to be one of the SEC favorites again next season.

[+] EnlargeMaty Mauk
Mike Ehrmann/Getty ImagesQB Maty Mauk returns, but Missouri still has to overcome some key losses on both sides of the ball.
Missouri: The situation is a little more dire in Columbia. The Tigers haven’t recruited as well as Auburn in recent years and are losing seven starters on offense and seven starters on defense from last year’s team.

The loss of quarterback James Franklin isn’t as bad because Missouri has Maty Mauk coming up behind him. Mauk played well last season when Franklin was injured. The redshirt freshman finished with 1,071 yards passing, 11 touchdowns and just two interceptions, and has a chance to be one of the top signal-callers in the SEC.

However, running back Henry Josey and wide receiver L'Damian Washington will no longer be at his disposal, making the presence of Dorial Green-Beckham that much more important.

Similar to Auburn, the real problem is on defense. The pass-rushing combination of Michael Sam and Kony Ealy was second to none in the SEC, but both players are gone, along with the team’s leading tackler, Andrew Wilson, and its lockdown cornerback, E.J. Gaines.

If there’s a saving grace for Missouri, it’s the schedule. The Tigers don’t have to play Alabama, Auburn or LSU, and based on the opponents, they have a chance to go 7-0 at home next season.

Still, the fans voted Missouri as the most likely SEC team to fall in 2014, and it’s hard not to expect some type of letdown from this team next season. They proved they belong, but maintaining that success is a brand-new challenge.

SEC lunch links

February, 21, 2014
Feb 21
The SEC offseason is churning along. It's not nearly as exciting as Olympic women's hockey, but it's worth keeping an eye on.

Season wrap: Missouri

January, 15, 2014
Jan 15
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.

SEC's lunch links

January, 10, 2014
Jan 10
Two handy reminders: College football underclassmen have until Jan. 15 to declare for the NFL draft, which will be May 8 at Radio City Music Hall in New York.

SEC's lunch links

January, 8, 2014
Jan 8
It's Johnny Manziel's big day! Will he or won't he leave Texas A&M to go to the NFL? Start biting those fingernails now.
Missouri lost a key component to its explosive offense, as junior running back Henry Josey decided to bypass his senior year and throw his hat into the NFL ring, the school announced Tuesday.

Josey joins junior defensive end Kony Ealy as the second early entry from Missouri's football team.

More than a year removed from a devastating knee injury that left his football career in jeopardy, Josey stormed back to the playing field with 1,166 rushing yards and 16 rushing touchdowns. He was a major reason for Missouri's offensive revival in 2013 and will be sorely missed by the Tigers in 2014.

[+] EnlargeHenry Josey
Ron Jenkins/Fort Worth Star-Telegram/MCTMissouri running back Henry Josey is taking the opportunity to leap into the NFL draft after a productive career with the Tigers.
Considered one of the best running backs in the Big 12 before his season-ending injury in 2011, Josey didn't appear to lose a step after losing an entire year of his football life. He was barely walking after his injury, yet sprinted past or cut by most of the defenders who attempted to bear hug him in 2013.

He only broke the century mark in four games this season but averaged 6.7 yards per carry. This was not a player you wanted to sleep on. He could churn out the extra tough yards to extend drives and could end drives in an instant with his home-run speed. Josey finished his Mizzou career with a bang, rushing for 92 yards and two touchdowns, including the game-winning 16-yard run late in the fourth quarter to secure the Tigers' 41-31 win over Oklahoma State in the AT&T Cotton Bowl.

Here's what Josey said about his departure in a release from the school:

“This is really a bittersweet decision to make. I’m so grateful to Mizzou and my coaches and teammates and fans for all of their support and everything they’ve meant to me these past four years. It’s difficult to think I won’t be with them next year. But I’m really excited to have a chance to play professionally and work on fulfilling a dream I’ve had since I was a little kid. I can’t possibly express how much I owe to so many people for helping me get to this position, my doctors, trainers, strength coaches, everyone who pushed me and helped me and believed in me, and of course my coaches for trusting me. To the Mizzou fans, thanks so much for all of your prayers and thoughts the past couple of years, you truly inspired me to get back on the field. I’m going to miss my teammates but I know they’ll do great things and I will always be a Mizzou Tiger.”

It was a special season for a special player who almost had the sport that he loved taken away from him. While the Tigers had plenty of offensive threats to work with this season, Josey was a true X-factor for this team. He made the running game go and could cut the life out of a defense with a simple cut or burst.

The good news for Mizzou is that it has good experience at that running back position. Sophomore Russell Hansbrough ranked second on the team with 685 yards and four touchdowns on 114 carries this season, while junior Marcus Murphy added 601 yards and nine more scores. Oh, and new starting quarterback Maty Mauk isn't afraid to tuck the ball and run either, as he rushed for 229 yards on 41 carries this season.

Mizzou should be fine running the ball, but Josey's intangibles and overall skill will be tough to replace. He was a model player and citizen for the Tigers and the SEC will miss him. Well, maybe not defenders and their coordinators, but you get the point.
ARLINGTON, Texas -- Missouri players sat and watched the Allstate Sugar Bowl with the bewildered feeling the rest of the nation was experiencing. Oklahoma was imposing its will on SEC power Alabama in the heart of SEC country, going from underdog to the talk of the nation on Thursday night.

“It was crazy, it came down to what team wanted it most,” Missouri receiver Dorial Green-Beckham said of the Sooners' 45-31 win. “You looked at Oklahoma and they wanted to win the game, they wanted to be Sugar Bowl champs, they went out and took what was theirs.”

Thus, Missouri players woke up on Friday morning with the knowledge that the weight of an entire conference was on their shoulders. Missouri needed to grab immediate revenge with a victory over Oklahoma State in the AT&T Cotton Bowl if it wanted to defend its conference’s reputation.

The SEC took a punch from the Big 12 in the Sugar Bowl, but the Tigers punched back Friday night with a 41-31 win over Big 12 foe Oklahoma State at AT&T Stadium.

[+] EnlargeHenry Josey, Blake Webb
Ronald Martinez/Getty ImagesMissouri might be new to the SEC, but the Tigers understood the importance of beating Oklahoma State and keeping the conference's rep.
“I did feel a tad bit of pressure, because I know we represent the SEC,” senior receiver L'Damian Washington said. “I think [OSU cornerback] Justin Gilbert made a statement earlier this week that the Big 12 was better than the SEC and I think we had to go out and prove the SEC is a force to be reckoned with.”

The Tigers used a combination of a relentless pass-rushing defensive line, strong running game and timely plays to earn their school record-tying 12th victory of the season, equaling the win total of the 2007 team.

Led by Cotton Bowl offensive MVP Henry Josey, Missouri rushed for 256 yards and averaged 5.4 yards per carry against a Cowboys’ defense that allowed 132.9 rushing yards and 3.46 per carry during the regular season. OSU quarterback Clint Chelf will have nightmares featuring Tigers pass-rushing duo Michael Sam and Kony Ealy. Missouri got to Chelf for three sacks, but the Cowboys quarterback was constantly flushed out of the pocket and forced to make plays on the move thanks to the Tigers defensive line, which cemented the win when Sam forced a Chelf fumble that was returned 73 yards for a touchdown by Shane Ray to halt OSU’s hopes of a game-winning touchdown in the final minutes.

“First-team All-American makes an All-American play,” Mizzou coach Gary Pinkel said.

SEC teams rejoiced as the conference escaped back-to-back losses to Big 12 opponents.

“We believe we’re the best conference,” said Andrew Wilson, who finished with a game-high 15 tackles. “And if you want to be the best conference you have to prove it, that’s why everyone is rooting for each other in these bowl games for everyone to go out and do what they can do.”

Make no mistake, the Tigers wanted the win for themselves, but they also wanted it for their conference.

“That’s something real big, representing the SEC,” Josey said. “The SEC is such a powerful conference, that’s the conference everybody looks to, that’s where the attention is. Coming into this game, that was in the back of our mind, that is always in the back of our mind that we had to hold up the rep for the SEC.”

Now, with its job done, Missouri passes the mantle to Auburn, which has the opportunity to win the eighth consecutive BCS title for the SEC when it takes on Florida State in the BCS National Championship on Monday night.

“Right now it’s up to Auburn to bring it home,” Ealy said. “We want to keep it in the SEC, that’s the most important thing as far as this conference goes.”
ARLINGTON, Texas -- Missouri sent a message for the SEC with a 41-31 win over Oklahoma State in the AT&T Cotton Bowl on Friday Night at AT&T Stadium. Here’s how it happened.

It was over when: Missouri defensive lineman Shane Ray returned a fumble 73 yards for a touchdown. Oklahoma State was driving to try to take the lead or tie the game in the final minutes when Missouri’s Michael Sam stripped OSU quarterback Clint Chelf of the ball, which Ray picked up for the scoop and score.

How the game was won: After Oklahoma State drove down to take the lead late in the fourth quarter, Missouri responded on its next drive to score the game-winning points. James Franklin led the Tigers down the field to jump right back on top after running back Henry Josey's 16-yard touchdown run made the score 34-31 with 3:08 remaining. Josey’s touchdown capped off a 7-play, 69-yard drive and gave the Tigers a lead they wouldn’t relinquish.

Turning point: Missouri receiver Dorial Green-Beckham made a key 27-yard catch on the Tigers' final drive on 3rd-and-9 from the OSU 43-yard line. Green-Beckham used his size and ball skills to outfight OSU’s Tyler Patmon for the key third down conversion. Josey rumbled 16 yards for the game-deciding touchdown on the next play.

Stat of the game: 256. Mizzou ran for 256 yards on the Cowboys, averaging 5.4 yards per carry. Josey was shifty and solid while backup quarterback Maty Mauk was explosive with three carries for 73 yards in spot duty. OSU simply didn’t have an answer for Missouri’s running game, particularly when it needed one in the fourth quarter.

Player of the game: Josey. He didn’t have outstanding numbers, but his quickness and cutback ability gave OSU’s defense fits. He finished with 12 carries for 92 yards and three touchdowns, averaging 7.7 yards per carry.

What it means for Oklahoma State: The Cowboys end the season with back-to-back disappointing losses after falling to the Tigers in the Cotton Bowl and losing to Oklahoma in their regular-season finale. OSU heads into the offseason with very little momentum and looking to replace several starters while opening the 2014 season with Florida State.

What it means for Missouri: The Tigers rebounded well from their SEC championship loss to Auburn. Missouri finishes 12-2 with the Cotton Bowl victory and will head into 2014 with plenty of confidence and momentum.

AT&T Cotton Bowl preview

January, 3, 2014
Jan 3
Oklahoma State will want to strike another blow for the Big 12, Missouri will want to defend the SEC’s reputation. It should be a good one.

OSU and Missouri battle in the AT&T Cotton Bowl (7:30 pm ET, FOX) on Friday night at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas. Here’s a preview of one of the most evenly matched games of this bowl season.

Who to Watch: Missouri defensive end Michael Sam. Look out Clint Chelf, Sam is coming for you and he’s been a terror for opposing offenses throughout the year. He led the SEC with 10.5 sacks and 18.5 tackles for loss. The senior brings a combination of acceleration and athleticism to the table that is very difficult for offenses to stop. If OSU has any hope to win, it can’t let Sam spend his holiday season in the backfield in hot pursuit of Chelf, the Cowboys quarterback, and OSU's running backs.

What to Watch: The interior lines. Missouri has a strong group in the trenches, and OSU’s success has mirrored its ability to control the line of scrimmage. Whoever wins the battle of the big fellas will probably win the game. Both teams have very talented skill players, like OSU receiver Josh Stewart and Missouri running back Henry Josey, who can make plays if given the chance. How do you take those explosive players out of the equation? Win the battle up front.

Why to Watch: The matchup between OSU cornerback Justin Gilbert and Mizzou receiver Dorial Green-Beckham is one reason. The battle between former Big 12 foes is another. These two teams know each other better than the normal bowl matchup, and the Cowboys will be looking to strike another blow for the Big 12 after Oklahoma’s Sugar Bowl win, while the Tigers will be looking to redeem the SEC. The Sooners’ win over Alabama could very well ramp up the intensity in this one.

Prediction: Oklahoma State 35, Missouri 34. The Cowboys prevail in one of the best games of the bowl season. Neither team dominates in the trenches, so this one is decided by turnovers and key plays on special teams. A late turnover by the Tigers helps OSU score a late touchdown to snatch the victory out of the hands of their former conference rival.

SEC sleepers for Heisman in 2014

December, 19, 2013
Now that Jameis Winston has been crowned this year's Heisman Trophy winner, it's time to take an early peak at the top candidates for next season. Our own Travis Haney did all the hard work for us earlier this week when he debuted his list of the top 10 candidates who should be up for the award in 2014.

Winston tops his list, but he also had four players from the SEC -- Georgia running back Todd Gurley, Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall, Alabama running back T.J. Yeldon and Missouri wide receiver Dorial Green-Beckham -- on there.

I like all four of those choices, and it should be noted that like me, he doesn't see Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel or Auburn running back Tre Mason returning to school in 2014. That's why you won't find them on his list.

I think Gurley might have the best chance out of this bunch because he pretty much proved that he's one of the country's best players -- regardless of position -- when he's healthy. And he really was never 100 percent after that ankle injury, yet still managed to finish with 903 rushing yards and 10 touchdowns. He also caught 30 passes for 344 yards and five more scores.

In what could be his final year in Athens, Gurley could have a big, big year if he stays healthy.

So who are some other SEC players to keep an eye on in the Heisman race? Well it's way, way too early, but who cares? I'd love to have A&M's Mike Evans on this list, but I think after back-to-back monster seasons, Manziel's top receiving target is off to greener pastures.

[+] EnlargeMike Davis
AP Photo/John RaouxSophomore Mike Davis had five 100-yard games in SEC play.
Here are five other guys who you should pay attention to:

1. Mike Davis, RB, South Carolina: Because I think LSU running back Jeremy Hill isn't long for the SEC and will likely take his talents to the NFL, Davis gets my top spot. He's great between the tackles, can hit the home run play on the outside and isn't too bad in the passing game. He's fourth in the SEC with 1,134 rushing yards and has 11 touchdowns. He also has caught 32 passes for 342 yards.

2. Odell Beckham Jr., WR, LSU: It might be hard for him to stay at LSU after a tremendous junior year, but if he does, he should get some early Heisman love. He'll have a new quarterback, but Beckham showed this season that he certainly has go-to talent and he'll get some extra Heisman attention with his play in the return game. Not only did Beckham catch 57 passes for 1,117 yards and eight touchdowns during the regular season, he registered 947 return yards.

3. Henry Josey, RB, Missouri: A year and a half removed from shredding his knee, Josey made the ultimate comeback with 1,074 rushing yards and 13 touchdowns. He was one of the most explosive backs in the SEC and averaged 6.6 yards per carry. More than 700 of Josey's yards came in SEC play this season. DGB will get most of the preseason love in Columbia this fall, but Josey has everything it takes to be an elite back in this league.

4. Amari Cooper, WR, Alabama: He had a relatively quiet regular season, but Cooper has what it takes to be a real superstar in this league. We saw major flashes of it during his freshman year, but nagging injuries cut his production in 2013. He caught 36 passes for 615 yards and four touchdowns, including a 99-yarder against Auburn. Cooper is a deep threat and can make the tough catches in traffic. If he's healthy, he could make a Heisman push, as he becomes the prime go-to guy for Alabama's new quarterback.

5. Maty Mauk, QB, Missouri: OK, so we've been down this path before. A lot of hype dumped on a relatively inexperienced player. Usually, it doesn't pan out. The good news for Mauk is that he got some valuable playing time during the regular season. He learned from James Franklin and then performed swimmingly in his place after Franklin missed a month with a shoulder injury. Mauk knows the offense backward and forward, is a threat to run and pass, and should still have some nice offensive weapons around him next fall. During the regular season, he threw for 1,039 yards and 10 touchdowns, and he rushed for another 156 yards and a touchdown.
The SEC championship game was great for one set of Tigers and excruciating for another.

The Auburn Tigers won 59-42 and are headed to the VIZIO BCS National Championship Game in Pasadena, Calif., to take on No. 1 Florida State.

But Missouri walked out of the Georgia Dome last Saturday with its tail between its legs and BCS hopes dashed. In a game that looked like it could have gone either way for three quarters, Missouri just didn't have enough steam on defense or offense to keep up with the Tigers from the Plains.

Mizzou was gashed for 545 rushing yards and was left panting along the way. It wasn't a good night for Mizzou, but it shouldn't define Mizzou's season.

[+] EnlargeTre Mason
John David Mercer/USA TODAY SportsMissouri got run over in the SEC title game, but Gary Pinkel's squad still had a banner year.
"They're crushed. I mean, they are absolutely crushed," coach Gary Pinkel said after Saturday's loss. "And that's good. I mean, that's OK. They're used to winning, and this game was real important to them. Hopefully, we get in the position again, and we'll play better. Maybe we'll handle it a little bit better.

"But I thought we did all right things. I'm proud of them, proud how they competed and battled."

After an injury-riddled 2012 SEC debut equated to just five wins for the Tigers, Mizzou bounced back to win 11 games and play in the SEC championship game. Red-hot Texas A&M hasn't been to Atlanta yet, and it has been a couple of years since Easter Division counterparts Florida and South Carolina have visited Hotlanta for the SEC title.

In a year in which the Tigers could have fallen further behind their SEC mates, they pushed ahead and were a quarter away from playing out west. Mizzou might have been blanked 14-0 in the fourth quarter of the SEC title game, but the Tigers dominated a season in which no one was quite sure what to expect out of these cats.

A bowl game? Sure, but an East title? A trip to Atlanta? Please, only for a layover at best.

Mizzou proved the haters and the doubters wrong all year. Their only regular-season slip-up came at home against South Carolina, in which they blew a 17-0 fourth-quarter lead before losing in double overtime. We all thought their East dreams were over, until they won their next four, including at No. 24 Ole Miss (24-10) and at home against No. 21 Texas A&M (28-21).

A year after resting near the bottom of the SEC barrel in total offense (356.4 yards and 25.8 points per game), the Tigers head into their AT&T Cotton Bowl matchup with Oklahoma State ranking third in the SEC in offense (492.9 yards per game) and scoring (39). The Tigers averaged 6.7 yards per play this year, after averaging just 4.9 yards last year.

With a healthy James Franklin at quarterback, an offensive line that didn't need to be patched together by bandages and Henry Josey back at running back, Mizzou enjoyed an offense of riches in 2013. In consecutive weeks, the Tigers beat Vanderbilt, Georgia and Florida by a combined 128-71. Josey ran for 1,074 yards, and Franklin surpassed last year's touchdown total of 10 in Week 4.

After Franklin went down with another shoulder injury, Mizzou went 3-1 behind Matty Mauk. Again, adversity didn't faze these Tigers.

On defense, Mizzou ranked second in the SEC and 14th nationally in rush defense (119 yards per game) before taking on Auburn. After losing first-round defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson, defensive end Michael Sam led the SEC with 10.5 sacks and 18.5 tackles for loss.

This was a tougher team than we saw in 2012. Yes, being healthy helped, but the mindset was so much different. There was confidence and swagger that last year's team wished it had. Injuries certainly affected that, but this team believed it could make it to Atlanta and beyond ... and it was almost right.

The trip to Jerry's World might not be as exciting as one to Pasadena, but Mizzou should pat itself on the back after the season it had. The Tigers should be proud and hold their heads high as they get a chance to play in a major bowl to open the new year.

"I was excited about our program a year ago," Pinkel said. "We do what we do, and I'm excited to keep building it."

What we learned in the SEC: Week 15

December, 8, 2013
Has an SEC season ever been this much fun? Auburn and Missouri capped a tremendous season with a thrill ride of a championship game. Here are five things we learned from Saturday's tilt.

[+] EnlargeTre Mason
John David Mercer/USA TODAY SportsAuburn's Tre Mason not only carried the Tigers to a win in the SEC championship game, but he ran his way into the Heisman discussion as well.
1. Auburn's offense is impossible to contain: Missouri entered Saturday's game with a very good defense, ranking second in the conference and 14th in the nation against the run (119.1 yards allowed per game). When the burn marks cooled off and the game was over, Auburn had 545 yards rushing (the most in league history by an SEC team against an SEC opponent) as part of its SEC title game record 677 total yards. Gus Malzahn's offense was at its mind-boggling best, using every wrinkle in the playbook to steamroll yet another helpless opponent. When Mizzou geared up to stop the run in the first half, AU quarterback Nick Marshall went 6-of-6 passing for 94 of his 132 yards to loosen up the defense. When Tre Mason needed a blow -- which wasn't often -- Corey Grant and Cameron Artis-Payne stepped in to score one TD each. When Missouri went with an extra linebacker in a 3-4 alignment to attempt to keep Auburn from gaining the edge, the Gus Bus simply ran up the middle and flattened Missouri. All of it happened at a breakneck pace, as Auburn's offense set a tempo that no defense appears capable of keeping up with.

2. The SEC has a chance to extend its streak of national championships: The SEC just won't be denied. After celebrating with the league trophy, the oversized logo and the confetti cannons, Auburn players and coaches settled in to watch the ACC and Big Ten championship games. No. 1 Florida State took care of business, but No. 2 Ohio State fell to Michigan State. Toomer's Corner exploded with toilet paper for the second time on Saturday night, as fans spilled into the intersection to celebrate a shot at the national title. Auburn took care of business on the field but needed help, and the Spartans delivered. What else would you expect in the Tigers' miracle season? The SEC's seven-year winning streak refuses to die, as AU is now projected to play unbeaten FSU in Pasadena, Calif., for all the marbles.

3. Mason deserves serious Heisman consideration: If the junior from Palm Beach, Fla., somehow wasn't on the national scene before Saturday, he certainly is now. Mason broke five SEC championship game records with 46 carries for 304 yards and four touchdowns. It was three yards shy of tying the Auburn single-game record of 307 set by Curtis Kuykendall in 1944. He ran away with the MVP award (pun intended) and could now find himself in New York City next week as a finalist for the Heisman Trophy. Mason finished strong in 2013 and added to his eye-popping 2013 season stats -- 1,621 yards and 22 touchdowns. It's only fitting that the Heisman could come down to Mason and FSU quarterback Jameis Winston, the two biggest stars on the nation's two best teams.

4. Mizzou has a great offense of its own: James Franklin's valiant attempt to keep up with the Auburn juggernaut deserves recognition. The senior kept his Tigers in the game, throwing for 303 yards and three touchdowns and rushing for 62 yards and another score. His favorite target, sophomore Dorial Green-Beckham, put an exclamation mark on his breakthrough season with six catches for 144 yards and two TDs. Mizzou had balance and did plenty of big-play damage. Leading rusher Henry Josey broke off a 65-yarder as part of his 123-yard effort (13.7 yards per carry). But it wasn't enough to keep up, as Auburn's offense applied too much pressure, and Missouri eventually wilted in the fourth quarter.

5. If this is the new SEC, it sure is entertaining: An era of unbridled offense has taken over college football, and on Saturday the old formula of winning with defense, special teams and a conservative offense was nowhere to be seen inside the Georgia Dome. The first half was enough to know this wasn't your father's SEC. The combined 55 first-half points were not only the most in SEC championship game history, they were more points than the four-quarter totals scored in 15 other SEC title games. When it was over and the scoreboard operator got some much-needed rest, the combined point total of 101 had obliterated the previous record -- 75 points in 1996 (Florida 45, Alabama 30). Auburn and Missouri combined for a dizzying number of big plays, as the SEC's showcase looked more like a video game than ever before.

Video: Henry Josey remade

December, 7, 2013

Missouri running back Henry Josey discusses coming back from a devastating knee injury that almost ended his career.



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