Two weeks from today our Gopher football squad will take on the Missouri Tigers in the Citrus Bowl. A New Year's Day bowl game... saying that never gets old. As is our custom here at TDG, I sought out a rival blogger to do some Q&A with. After an extensive search and being rebuffed by lots of people, I settled for Jack Peglow from Rock M Nation, SBNation's Missouri outpost. (Just kidding. Jack was my first choice.)
This is part 1 of that Q&A. Jack and I are planning to do 2 or 3 of these leading up to the Citrus Bowl. Now, let's get to know the Missouri Tigers a bit better... on to the queries.
JDMill: After moving the the SEC in 2012, Missouri has gone on to win the SEC East each of the last two seasons. Tell us a little bit about Mizzou's (can I call you Mizzou?) transition to the SEC? What were the expectations of the program in making the move and how have the Tigers performed in light of those expectations?
Jack Peglow: As long as you don't abbreviate Mizzou as freakin' Mizz like ESPN does all the damn time, we'll be good. (Just use MIZ. We chant it, for christ's sake.) The transition itself was banana pants crazy, with reports coming out in the morning that claimed Mizzou was SEC bound being refuted by reports in the afternoon that proved the Tigers would be staying put. Once the dust had settled, I think most Mizzou fans expected the team to be competitive. If you would've asked me personally, I would've told you that Mizzou consistently placing in the top half of the division would be about right. Gary Pinkel and company have never bought much stock in anyone's expectations, though. They stuck to their formula of getting 4-star production out of 2-star players and snagged two SEC East titles - in (relatively) down years in the division, sure - in their first three years in the conference. It's a testament to the coaching staff as well as the administration's trust in them that was demonstrated after the injury-plagued 2012 season. Going forward, I'll stick with my top-half of the division expectations. Any year where the Tigers take home an East title is a bonus. So, I guess we're in multi-ball mode right now.
JD: Similar to how the conventional wisdom is that the B1G West is the weaker of the two Big Ten divisions, there seems to be a belief that the SEC East is much weaker than the West. Please dispel that thinking for us.
JP: As much as I'd like to dispel that line of thinking, I just can't. In just about every measure - from the cold, hard numbers to the eye-test - the East was the weaker of the two divisions. Now, was the gap as Mariana Trench sized as some Paul Finebaum callers would like you to believe? No, it's probably more of a manageable Grand Canyon. It looks super unbridgeable, but if you hit that ramp *just right* you can totally make the jump. Jokes aside, the top two teams in the East this year, Georgia and Missouri, would compete in the West. It's the rest of the East that would crash and burn.
JD: 2014 was a great year for Missouri. 10 wins and losses coming only to Georgia, Alabama, and... wait, that can't be right... Indiana? What the...? So um, tell us about this season and maybe try to help us understand how the Tigers managed to fall to the Hoosiers.
JP: The 2014 edition of The Missouri Tigers may not be the most statistically impressive team to take the field, but the game-plan that Gary Pinkel and company implement is going to do its very best to render that a moot point. The team knows that they aren't a squat is a team that is capable of blowing anyone out, so that's not what they're going to try to do. They're going to play nasty, physical defense, limit their offensive mistakes, try to swing field position in their favor on special teams, and generally muck the game up enough to pull out a close, ugly win. The problem with the Indiana loss was that Mizzou was still trying to be something it wasn't. For the first half of this season - the matchup with the Hoosiers included - the Tigers thought it was still 2013 and they could still sling the ball around all willy-nilly. They learned later that they could not, in fact, do that if they wanted to win games. Another big factor was the absence of Markus Golden. I'm always hesitant to blame a loss completely on an injury, but the reason Indiana's offense was able to perform as well as it did was because they continuously ran to Golden's side of the defense. The final screen pass that set up the Hoosiers' game-winning score was completely almost exactly where Golden would've been had he played. That said, they won the game, no ifs, ands, or buts about it. They are your reigning SEC East champions.