No one folded. Missouri beat Tennessee 31-3 the next week and has won four in a row.
“To me, it was a no-brainer,” Pinkel said. “One moment of sitting back saying, `Woe is me,’ when everything’s out in front of us. The players responded well.”
This is the second time Pinkel has guided Missouri to a conference title shot. The Tigers won 12 games in 2007 and were ranked No. 1 for a week before getting waxed by Oklahoma in the second half of the Big 12 title game.
Senior wide receiver L’Damian Washington, whose leaping, acrobatic fingertip touchdown catch was a key play in the victory over Texas A&M that wrapped up the SEC East, got it right. Washington upped the ante at the SEC media days in July, predicting 11 wins because he knew the talent was there.
“They couldn’t tell me about my team, that’s why I said 11 wins,” Washington said. “They can’t tell me that the guys in the locker room aren’t good enough for 11 wins. I saw those guys every day, I saw their ambition.”
Missouri players are well aware their opponent appears to have the more compelling story line. Auburn is coming off the wow play of the year, Chris Davis’ 100-yard plus touchdown return after a missed field goal that shocked top-ranked Alabama, plus the eight-win improvement under new coach Gus Malzahn that is the best in the nation this season.
“That’s cool,” Washington said. “Keep it that way.”
Pinkel points out it’s been only three years since Auburn won its seventh SEC title, while Missouri’s last title was in 1969. Fans stormed the field after the Tigers held off Texas A&M on Senior Night but appeared more interested in soaking up the moment than dragging off the goal posts.
Leave it to offensive guard Max Copeland, a former walk-on from Billings, Mont., to sum up the ride thus far.
“Can’t you just feel the energy around this place and around this town?” Copeland asked. “I’m excited to be a part of it, and excited to be in the eye of the storm.”