- Associated Press - Wednesday, November 25, 2015

COLUMBIA, Mo. (AP) - Before each season, Missouri coach Gary Pinkel sets a list of goals for his team that he calls pillars. Though it’s been a down year, there’s one still within reach.

“That’s always a goal every year,” senior offensive tackle Connor McGovern said. “That’s one of the pillars. It would be huge for us to make it to a bowl game.”

McGovern compared the bowl experience to a big family vacation.

“It’s always a fun time to be with the team,” McGovern said. “You get sweat shirts and T-shirts and cool stuff like that, too.”

After consecutive SEC East titles in 2013 and 2014, a string of injuries and off-field issues has left Missouri (5-6. 1-6 SEC) fighting for relevance this season. A win Friday against Arkansas (6-5, 4-3) would secure bowl eligibility for the 11th time in Pinkel’s 15 seasons.

“We’ve gone through a ton of adversity,” freshman quarterback Drew Lock said. “To get to a bowl game after all this, that would be a big deal to show that we can overcome a lot of stuff.”

Even if Missouri loses, it might not be Pinkel’s last game. There are a record 41 bowl games scheduled this postseason and so far, 71 bowl-eligible teams. There are 17 others capable of reaching .500, but some 5-7 teams could get invites.

While his focus is on beating Arkansas, Lock said he still would be interested in playing in a bowl if the team fell to 5-7.

“I think everyone would say yes in that position,” Lock said. “Obviously, it’s not what you normally want. You want to be a six-win team like all the credentials are supposed to be.”

Reports suggest the NCAA will consider things like fan base and geography when determining which 5-7 teams to choose. There are also financial ramifications, such as bonuses due coaches for getting to a bowl. In 2014, Pinkel accrued $900,000 in bonuses, the most in college football.

The 63-year-old Pinkel said Monday it would be up to athletic director Mack Rhoades whether or not the Tigers accept a bowl bid with a 5-7 record.

“I have not even thought about that,” Pinkel said. “I want to win the game. That’s where my focus is.”

If the Tigers lose Friday and at least nine more teams reach 6-6, Pinkel will have coached his last game. He was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma in May and announced his retirement earlier this month.

Win or lose, Pinkel said he doesn’t want Friday’s game to be about him.

“It’s about him to a certain extent, but we also know we have to win this game,” wide receiver J’Mon Moore said. “Even if it wasn’t the circumstances coaches Pinkel is going through, we would still be looking at this game as if ‘we have to win.’ But with it possibly being his last game, it does give you that extra push.”

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