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Non-conference games provide Tigers with time to develop

COLUMBIA — A year ago, the Missouri Tigers were in the midst of a tough stretch that included Southeastern Conference games against South Carolina and Georgia.

A pair of conference losses in September put the Tigers behind early and they never recovered on their way to a 5-7 season.

But with four non-conference games to start out the season, the Tigers have a chance to gain some early-season momentum not afforded to them last year.

With non-conference victories against Murray State and Toledo, and a pair of winnable games against Indiana and Arkansas State, the Tigers have a shot to be 4-0 when they open conference play Oct. 5 at Vanderbilt.

“We can always gain confidence if you go into the SEC with wins,” defensive end Markus Golden said.

Missouri coach Gary Pinkel wouldn’t say one way or the other if he liked all the non-conference games early, or if he preferred mixing them up.

But by the time the Tigers got around to playing Syracuse late in the season, Missouri had gone though the rigors of seven conference games.

“After you get done with the non-conference games, now we’ve got to focus, SEC football, you know how they’ve got competition,” Golden said. “We’ll just be ready to play competition football after playing the (non-conference teams).”

Missouri and Arkansas are the only SEC teams that play all four of their non-conference games in a row. All other SEC teams have at least one conference game mixed in with their non-conference games. Missouri is the last team to start SEC play, as the Razorbacks open conference play Sept. 28, a week before Missouri.

The schedule is not unfamiliar to Missouri, however. This year’s schedule is how it was set up in the Big 12.

Prior to last season, Missouri had not played a non-conference game after the start of conference season since 2001. That year, Missouri played Michigan State in the final game of the season after it was rescheduled due to the 9/11 attacks.

That schedule seemed to work well in terms of wins for Missouri. Since the NCAA went to 12 games in 2006, the Tigers started off 4-0 five times.

Some Tigers are indifferent about the schedule. Center Evan Boehm said it makes no difference to him when the Tigers play their opponents.

“I don’t think it really matters, non-conference games here, non-conference games there,” he said. “You have to show up and play the game of football, and you have to be competitive every single time you step out on the field.”

Notes: Missouri’s home game against Arkansas State on Sept. 28 will kick off at 6:30 p.m. and will be broadcast on Comcast Sports Southeast. ... Pinkel defended the school’s tutoring program which has made news after a book detailing the ins and outs of college programs focused a chapter on Missouri’s tutoring program. When asked if he’d seen any problems with the program Pinkel said, “No. If I did, I’d jump on it quick.” The book entitled “The System” is set to be released today. The chapter about Missouri focuses on former running back Derrick Washington and his 2011 sexual abuse case. Washington was convicted of assaulting a Missouri tutor while he was a member of the team.

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