Really, just how good is ... Missouri?
Really, just how good is Missouri? Miami? UCLA? Texas Tech?
Really, How Good Is ...
By Russ Mitchell
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How good is Missouri?
Yes. Missouri. Yes, those same Columbia Tigers who won only two SEC games last season, on the way to a bowl-less off-season.
The same 2012 Tigers that had their offensive line dress as M*A*S*H patients for Halloween – except most of them couldn't walk, and there were no treats for them anyway.
The same new-flavor Tigers who finished in the bottom half of every statistical conference category in 2012 – except punt and kickoff returns.
Those same Tigers who finished last in the conference in recruiting and whose head coach spent much of the off season fighting off pitch forks and torches.
Don't look now, y'all, but our new cousins to the west are 5-0 and tied for first in the SEC East.
Oh what a difference a year can make.
LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION
Doubters might point to a favorable early season schedule, and they'd be right. However, everyone has played some cupcakes, and the Mizzou Tigers right now sit in some lofty air.
At roughly the halfway point in the season, the Tigers rank second best in the SEC in scoring offense, first in rushing offense – the only team averaging more than 6 yards per carry, fourth in passing offense and second in total offense.
Second…ahead of both Georgia and LSU.
Yes, the Mizzou schedule pales in comparison to Georgia's. But Missouri played both of its decent games so far on the road, Georgia, and not only won them but CRUSHED their opponents. The Tigers manhandled an Indiana Hoosiers team in Bloomington that just embarrassed Penn State for their first win versus the Nittany Lions in…forever.
Then last weekend the Tigers rolled into Nashville and were thrashing a decent Vandy team 30-7 at halftime. Just as impressive, Missouri would maintain that 23 point lead throughout the second half, finishing with a 51-28 road conference win.
Perhaps the biggest difference year over year is with injuries, or rather the lack thereof. Mizzou's offensive line has stayed relatively healthy – especially compared to last season. To that add a senior dual-threat quarterback and the return of uber-talented junior tailback Henry Josey, who sat out 2012 recovering from a devastating injury. Not to mention perhaps the more talented sophomore running back Russell Hansbrough.
All three have been particularly efficient leading their team this season, which has translated to points on the scoreboard and wins in the record book.
And better night's sleep for coach Gary Pinkel.
THE DOWNSIDE RISK
In terms of defense, Missouri is a little behind where it finished the 2012 season, which was hardly stellar. Moreover, as the Tigers have yet to hit the meat of their 2013 season, that gives one even greater pause.
Of the Tigers next seven opponents are four teams currently ranked in the Top 20. If that weren't enough, four of those seven include the conference's best, third, fifth and seventh best offenses.
Now the good news… Mizzou only faces one of those Top 20 teams on the road – this Saturday Between the Hedges in Athens, Georgia. And for those of you that missed the Dawgs come from behind victory in Knoxville last weekend, Georgia is facing a number of key injuries as they get ready to host the Tigers (Georgia's third run at "the" Tigers this year – LSU and Clemson being the first pair of felines, with Auburn still on the horizon).
Dogs and cats…living together.
WHAT COMES NEXT
Heading into the season, many a college football expert predicted Missouri would have to improve its passing offense to have a chance in 2013 – and Mizzou has. However, last season's woes centered around the Tigers' inability to run the ball.
Missouri's rushing offense finished 12 in a conference of 14 teams – and it wasn't simply because the Tigers found themselves down in games and were forced to pass.
When you factor for yards per carry, the Tigers still ranked at the bottom of the conference in 2012. In fact, it's uglier than that – Missouri was dead last with just 3.67 yards per carry.
Missouri has so far flipped that stat on its head in 2013. The Tigers possess the conference's most potent rushing offense at 6.08 yards per carry. Numero Uno. A remarkable turnaround.
Missouri and its rushing offense will get a great test on Saturday versus a Georgia run defense that's improving each time out, and averaging just 103 yards per game on the ground Between the Hedges. An SEC third best 3.2 yards per carry at home.
Lace ‘em up tight, Tigers. It's been pretty, but now your real season begins.
Russ Mitchell is the Lead SEC Columnist for CFN and Campus Insiders. Follow him @russmitchellcfb and listen to him each week on the SEC14.com Smackcast!, powered by Campus Insiders