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No. 8 Missouri hits the road to face No. 24 Mississippi (with PODCAST)

No. 8 Missouri hits the road to face No. 24 Mississippi (with PODCAST)

November 23rd, 2013 in News

Forget the myriad scenarios. Throw out the spreadsheets. Ignore what happens with South Carolina and Georgia.

It's all about the Missouri Tigers now. It's that simple.

No. 8 Missouri (9-1, 5-1 Southeastern Conference) must win its final two games - starting with No. 24 Mississippi (7-3, 3-3 SEC) at 6:45 p.m. today (ESPN-TV) in Oxford, Miss., before a regular-season finale against No. 12 Texas A&M - to capture the SEC East division title and advance to the SEC championship Dec. 7 in Atlanta.

"We determine our future," Missouri left guard Max Copeland said. "No one else determines our future for us. We're going to be the ones who decide where we end up. That responsibility is on us."

While the magnitude of today's contest certainly isn't lost on anybody, Missouri head coach Gary Pinkel is trying to treat it just like any other game.

"That's clutter. Let's mount up the pressure," he said. "Good players don't do that. Teams that prepare right don't. They focus on what they can control, and that's playing well.

"...You don't let outside things in. I'll be real disappointed if we start putting all kind of those pressures on ourselves. That doesn't help you play well."

The best way to avoid those distractions?

"Just try not to think about it really," Missouri quarterback James Franklin, who will be making his first start since Oct. 12 at Georgia, said. "This game coming up is another football game. Just go in with the mindset of doing what we need to do and do our best, and hopefully that will be good enough."

It's been good enough this season, as Missouri has thrust itself into the national conversation with a surprising turnaround from a 5-7 campaign in 2012.

"This is the fourth time in seven years we've been in the hunt," Pinkel said, referencing 2007, 2008, 2010 and now 2013. "When you're in the hunt, meaning you have an opportunity to win a championship when you get into November, you get a lot more publicity. What goes along with that is a lot of media recognition, which is a plus. It's a plus for the University of Missouri. People all over the country see the University of Missouri's name."

Missouri, coming off a bye week, can stay in the conversation with a win today.

"It was very refreshing for them both mentally and physically," Pinkel said of the week off. "Now preparing to play a very good Ole Miss team. I'm looking forward to the challenge. Our football team is excited to get back competing and just get back to the grind."

Added Copeland: "We actually were a little stir-crazy here. It was weird not having a game, not getting to hit people as much. We took that out on our film study. We've got a good head start, we're ready to play."

Mississippi owns a four-game winning streak entering today's matchup, including a marquee victory against then-No. 6 LSU to begin the surge. The other wins in the streak have come against Idaho, Arkansas and Troy.

"They're a real good football team, but you expect them to be a a good team," Pinkel said. "It's not like you look at the tape and go, "Wow, these guys are pretty good.' I told you about this league, this league has great teams."

Quarterback Bo Wallace leads a Rebel offense that averages 34.3 points per game. The junior signal-caller has completed 209-of-323 passes for 2,664 yards and 17 touchdowns to go along with five interceptions. He's also rushed 103 times for 232 yards and four scores.

"I think their quarterback has played at a very, very high level," Pinkel said of Wallace. "They play two quarterbacks. They have really good receivers, really good running backs. They have a stable full of athletes at those positions. Good offensive line. The numbers they're putting up and the stress that they put on defense are real."

That second quarterback is Barry Brunetti. He's completed 20-of-35 passes for 286 yards with six touchdowns and zero interceptions. More of a threat with his legs, Brunetti's rushed 50 times for 252 yards and four scores.

Jeff Scott, I'Tavius Mathers and Jaylen Walton combine to form a backfield trio that's amassed more than 1,300 yards rushing with 10 touchdowns. Mississippi averages more than 200 rushing yards per game.

Donte Moncrief leads the receiving corps with 686 receiving yards and five touchdowns. Laquon Treadwell boasts 53 receptions for 477 yards and five scores for an aerial attack that racks up nearly 300 passing yards per game.

The task is tall. The prize is bigger.

"You can talk all you want, you can analyze all you want," Pinkel said, "but you've got to do it."

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