Press Box: Saturday’s win has Tigers thinking about Atlanta

News Tribune Sports Commentary

COLUMBIA, Mo. — What seemed beyond unfathomable just a couple weeks ago now seems a strong possibility.

After consecutive wins against Georgia and Florida, the No. 14 Missouri Tigers are in the driver’s seat in the SEC East Division.

Missouri possesses a two-game cushion over South Carolina, Georgia and Florida, with tiebreakers over the latter two. The Tigers would hold the tiebreaker over all three with a win next Saturday against the Gamecocks.

Missouri clinches the division title if it wins the next three games — home to South Carolina and Tennessee, away to Kentucky — and while no easy task, that seems very doable.

Missouri should set its sights even higher than a division title. The Tigers should be aiming for an SEC title and a Bowl Championship Series berth. With the fortuitous turn the 2013 season has taken, It’d be a disappointment if Missouri doesn’t at least reach Atlanta for the conference championship.

Missouri wide receiver L’Damian Washington, who finished Saturday’s 36-17 victory against Florida with three catches for a game-high 84 yards, is on the same page.

“We told coach Pinkel, ‘We have to stop talking bowl games around here. Let’s talk BCS, let’s national championships.’ That was the bottom line from the seniors from Day 1,” he said.

Sure, that might sound a bit crazy. But Washington made similar remarks during the preseason, and they don’t sound all too far-fetched right now.

“At the SEC media day I said 11 wins or more,” Washington said. “A radio station here in Missouri laughed at me. I heard it one morning going to 6 o’clock weights. We believe in ourselves and that’s all that matters.”

Indeed, that is all that matters. Missouri is proving people wrong left and right. The Tigers are turning heads and making pundits, writers and fans eat crow. Myself included. I picked Missouri to finish 6-6 before the year started. So I’m already wrong.

So why can’t Missouri look to reach the SEC title game, or God forbid, win it?

“I don’t think we’ve accomplished much,” Washington said. “I think there’s still going to be a little bit of doubt (across the country). We don’t care. Step 8 is next week, this was Step 7. That’s all that matters. It’s a 12-step process.”

If the Tigers are to complete that 12-step process, it would mean Missouri is the SEC champion and guaranteed a berth in a BCS game, if not the national championship.

I’m not ready to pick the Tigers to make it that far. A very good South Carolina team stands in the way next week, albeit with an injured Connor Shaw questionable at starting quarterback. Look at what Tennessee has done lately (a narrow loss to Georgia and an upset of the Gamecocks yesterday). A road game at Mississippi on Nov. 23 looms large. Then you have Johnny Football coming to town Thanksgiving weekend. Win all of those and you’re likely meeting the two-time defending champion Alabama Crimson Tide for the SEC title.

There are plenty of road blocks in the way, enough chances for the Tigers to slip up.

But why not dream?

Missouri has a team capable of being BCS-bound for the first time in Gary Pinkel’s tenure. For Washington, and I’m sure plenty of other Tigers, anything short of that would be a disappointment.

At this point, throw my name in there too.

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