Missouri focused on S. Carolina, not national ranking or standing

Missouri head coach Gary Pinkel talks with quarterback Maty Mauk prior to Saturday’s game against Florida at Faurot Field.

Missouri head coach Gary Pinkel talks with quarterback Maty Mauk prior to Saturday’s game against Florida at Faurot Field. Photo by The Associated Press.

COLUMBIA — Gary Pinkel just doesn’t care.

Not about the quality of his football team. Just how outsiders view it.

“For me honestly, I never looked at one poll,” the Missouri head coach said regarding his thoughts on the Tigers’ No. 5 ranking in both the BCS standings and the Associated Press poll. “I’ve got friends who throw texts at me. I don’t get caught up in it.

“Obviously our team has to deal with it. They go from two weeks ago not dealing with anything, and all of the sudden there’s a lot of things out there. I would suggest the more they look at those things, the less focus that they’ll have as a player, we’ll have as a football team. I don’t care if you glance at it, look at it once, but if you’re sitting there waiting for ESPN to come on for them to say nice things about Mizzou, again those are things we have to deal with.”

People love a winner. And Missouri has been doing plenty of that lately, taking the Southeastern Conference by storm with a 7-0 overall record and a 3-0 mark in league play.

Missouri, already sitting in the driver’s seat in the East Division, can open a three-game lead with a victory against No. 20 South Carolina at 6 p.m. Saturday (ESPN-TV) at Faurot Field.

“We have a lot of challenges ahead,” Pinkel said. “What we need to do is focus on Game 8.

“I’ve been doing this for a long time. If you get caught up in that stuff, you’re never going to play your best.”

That message has clearly been relayed to his players.

“It’s just a number, it’s not a promise,” Missouri left tackle Justin Britt said of the ranking. “We still have to go out there and play the rest of the year and finish up what we started.”

Added quarterback Maty Mauk: “We looked at (the rankings) Sunday after we worked out and before meetings. Honestly, that’s the last time I’ve really looked at it. I haven’t really checked up on Twitter. It’s in the back of your head, but right now we’re focusing 100 percent on South Carolina and the gameplan.”

Throw in center Evan Boehm, too.

“You don’t even pay attention to it,” he said. “You walk around campus and you hear, ‘Oh my gosh, No. 5, this is awesome. Congrats, you played a great game.’ But you can’t worry about that. Yeah, it was a fun game, but you have to worry about this week and South Carolina.

“If you spend five minutes on ESPN, five minutes on Twitter, that’s five minutes you could be in here preparing for South Carolina.”

And Kentrell Brothers isn’t listening to all the chatter.

“It’s good to be ranked No. 5, but what does that really mean?” he said. “Any team can get beat on any given day, so we try to tune all that stuff out.”

If Missouri continues to win, those distractions are just going to mount.

III

Michael Sam was named the SEC defensive player of the week after recording three sacks in the win against Florida.

Mauk was named the SEC freshman player of the week after tossing for 295 yards and a touchdown in his first collegiate start.

Andrew Baggett earned the “Star of the Week” status from the Lou Groza National Collegiate Placekicker Award, as well as national specialist of the week honors from the College Football Performance Awards, after booting a Missouri record-tying five field goals against the Gators.

III

Don James, the legendary football coach at the University of Washington, passed away Sunday. He had been battling pancreatic cancer.

Pinkel played tight end under James at Kent State in the early 1970s before joining his staff at Washington for a total of 13 years during two separate stints beginning in 1976.

“Yesterday was a real difficult day for me,” Pinkel said Monday. “... He’s had a profound effect on my life. ... I’m a Don James disciple. ... He taught me how to be a head football coach by example. ... I also feel very fortunate that I was a part of something so special and that he was a part of my life.

“I had a chance about three weeks ago to talk to him. I called him on the phone and left him a long message because I didn’t know if he was going to get out of the hospital, I was just getting reports back. I just left a message and I broke down and I was crying and I told him how much I loved him. He called me back a week later and I’ll always remember that. We talked and he said, ‘Gary, I got your message,’ and his voice started quivering.

“I told my players that I hope I can give you just this much (holding his fingers maybe an inch apart) compared to all that I got from him to help me become a better person, coach and leader.”

III

Former Missouri linebacker Michael Keck, who was a high-profile recruit out of Harrisonville High School, passed away Monday morning with complications due to a staph infection on his heart. He was 25.

“That’s very unfortunate,” Pinkel said. “He was just a great young man. Just really sad for his family and all they’re going through. Any time you hear about that with young people it’s sad and difficult.”

III

Missouri starting cornerback E.J. Gaines is questionable with a strained quadriceps. He missed last week’s win against Florida. Marcus Murphy, who sustained a slight concussion last Saturday, will play against South Carolina. “(E.J.) is doing a little bit better,” Pinkel said. “Everybody else we expect to be back.” ... Missouri’s game Nov. 2 against Tennessee will either be a 5 p.m. kickoff on ESPN2 or a 6 p.m. kickoff on ESPN.

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