COLUMBIA, Mo. (AP) - Gary Pinkel does his best to downplay the transition. Before the first day of fall camp, he didn't mention the SEC to his players.
Missouri is coming from a pretty strong conference in the Big 12 and has become a perennial bowl team.
But his players don't need to told about the challenge ahead.
"We're going to have to go out and earn respect, and we understand that," Pinkel said. "I think you kind of figure that out. That's OK, that's good."
The preseason SEC poll drives home the point, with Missouri picked to finish fourth in the East behind Georgia, South Carolina and Florida even though the Tigers are coming off an 8-5 season and enter the Sept. 1 opener against Southeastern Louisiana on a four-game winning streak.
The lack of recognition has the Tigers burning to prove themselves worthy of membership in a conference that has produced the last six national champions.
"I think it's kind of odd that they would just rule us out," junior running back Kendial Lawrence said. "It's still football."
During spring practice, they began wearing wristbands with the initials S.W.A.G. - sacrifice will achieve greatness - and during fall camp T-shirts around the practice field bear the word "respect."
"It's kind of something for us to latch onto," senior wide receiver T.J. Moe said. "I think it's a good thing to have in your mind, it gives you something to work for every day. We've got all the pieces here to have a championship team, we've just got to put it on the field."
In July, oddsmakers in Las Vegas had Missouri listed as the opponent in five high-profile games, and underdogs in all of them.
"That's OK," Moe said. "By the time you get to Week 8, you'll have a pretty good taste of what it's like. They're going to know how good we are and we're going to do know how good they are. so we'll see how it all shakes out."
Junior quarterback James Franklin returned from shoulder surgery in March in time for the first day of fall workouts and is expected to be full strength well before the opener. Besides throwing 21 touchdown passes in his first year as the starter, the elusive Franklin also led the Tigers with 15 rushing touchdowns and ran for 981 yards overall.
Missouri would rather Franklin not run so much, given he's the lone quarterback on the roster with college game experience, but his legs might be needed. All-Big 12 tailback Henry Josey is likely to miss the season after requiring three surgeries, the last in May, for a ruptured patellar tendon sustained last fall.
Junior Kendial Lawrence is likely to step in for Josey, who was among the national leaders with 1,168 yards and an 8.1-yard average before getting injured.
One of Franklin's targets figures to be heralded freshman Dorial Green-Beckham of Springfield, Mo., widely considered the top high school recruit in the country. Green-Beckham set national high school records with 6,353 yards receiving and 75 touchdowns, and because of all this Pinkel limited media access for the first time in his dozen years at the school.
Pinkel said he won't rush the kid, and won't fast-track him on the depth chart. Pinkel said future NFL players like Jeremy Maclin, Sean Weatherspoon and Ziggy Hood got the same treatment.
"We're going to wait, see where it goes and let him come around like anybody does and see what happens," the coach said. "Like any freshman on our team, you start at the bottom. You're not going to come in and start, you don't do that."
Defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson, who was among the nation's top recruits a few years ago, heads into his first season as a starter. Richardson played catch-up much of 2011 after getting academic clearance from the NCAA.
"He has a chance to be an impact player," Pinkel said. "It's nice for the first time since he's been here, he's gotten to do the things our team does to get better. And that's all summer long."
Linebackers Andrew Wilson, Luke Lambert and Zaviar Gooden are among the top returning starters on an underrated defense that allowed just 59 fourth-quarter points last season.
The schedule includes a visit from Georgia in Game 2, on Sept. 8, and Alabama on Oct. 13. The season finale is Nov. 24 on the road at fellow SEC newcomer and old Big 12 foe Texas A&M.