Holohan: Who? Mizzou?

Published 3:00 am Saturday, December 6, 2014

Don’t look now, but Missouri is about to play in their second-straight SEC title game.

Just for the record, that’s more than Ole Miss, Mississippi State, South Carolina, Kentucky and Vanderbilt all have since the game’s inception in 1992.

Oh, and Missouri has been in the storied conference for just three years.

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That’s right, the poor old Big 12 team that was thrown to the wolves of the SEC in 2012 isn’t just holding its own, it’s making wolf skin rugs out of some of their conference opponents.

And the architect behind the Tigers’ success, head coach Gary Pinkel, deserves all of the credit in the world for the job he’s done with Missouri.

There is always that narrative: SEC teams routinely recruit faster, stronger and more talented athletes than any other conference in the nation.

And for Missouri to waltz into the most talented conference in the country and rip off two-straight conference title berths, is just flat out impressive.

What is even more impressive is how the Tigers did it.

After getting reamed in their first year in the newly-expanded SEC, which saw Missouri finish 5-7 overall and 2-6 in conference play, the Tigers bounced back mightily in the next two years, going a combined 24-4 overall and 14-2 in conference.

And let’s be clear, recruiting in the Big 12 is much different than recruiting in the SEC. It is imperative that you bring in those same faster, stronger and more talented athletes if you don’t want to be made into a perennial doormat.

The Tigers signed the 31st, 41st and 34th best recruiting classes since 2012. Pretty good, but not great.

But the work that Pinkel has been able to do with his players has been nothing short of amazing.

Look no further than sophomore quarterback Maty Mauk.

The Rivals.com three-star recruit from Ohio came into his freshman year with little-to-no expectations.

But all he’s done in his freshman and sophomore years is thrown for 33 touchdowns, 13 interceptions (just two this year) and 3,350 yards.

And that Missouri defense.

The Tigers all but single-handedly ended former Florida Gators head coach Will Muschamp’s career earlier this season when the Tigers destroyed the Gators 42-13 in a game in which Missouri scored one offensive touchdown and gained just 119 total yards.

If not for their one unexplainable loss at home to Big 10 opponent Indiana in September, Missouri might be in the playoff conversation with a win over Alabama Saturday.

And had they been able to play any semblance of defense last year against Auburn in Atlanta, the 2014 national title game would have looked much different.

Now, no one is saying the Tigers are world beaters. They did get demolished 34-0 by Georgia this season. But since then, the Tigers have rebounded well.

Will they beat the Tide Saturday? Probably not, at least that’s my opinion. But is Gary Pinkel’s job thus far in the SEC impressive? You bet.

And with a weak and rebuilding SEC East, who is going to stop the Tigers from going to to Atlanta next year?