COLUMBIA - There's still plenty to play for.
Sure, Missouri's heartbreaking loss to South Carolina on Saturday ruined an undefeated season and likely killed any dreams of playing for a national championship. But as the No. 10 Tigers (7-1, 3-1 SEC) get set to host Tennessee (4-4, 1-3 SEC) at 6 p.m. Saturday (ESPN-TV) at Faurot Field, this season can still be one to remember.
"We have a great chance to finish," Missouri head coach Gary Pinkel said. "November's a huge month. We have a good football team. ... You should be the most fired up football player in America with the opportunity and options we have in front of us, but we have to take care of our business. That's the beauty of playing. Getting to the end of the season with four games left, to be able to accomplish your goals, that's all out there. It's one week at a time, nothing's going to be easy about it, but you love to be in this situation."
Missouri still sits atop the SEC East division standings, but instead of a three-game cushion that a win against South Carolina would have produced, the Tigers hold just a one-game edge with four league contests left - Tenneessee, Kentucky, Mississippi and Texas A&M. The Gamecocks (6-2, 4-2 SEC), on the other hand, have just two conference games left - Mississippi State and Florida - and hold the head-to-head tiebreaker with Missouri.
"It's hard when you're doing so good and you turn around and lose a close game like that," quarterback Maty Mauk said. "We have something special going right now and we're going to bounce back from it and be as good as we ever have this week."
The Tigers insist they're not dwelling on the past, and are ready to resume their winning ways.
"A lot of teams, if you lose a big game like this, you let it carry over to the next week, and you essentially lose twice," defensive lineman Shane Ray said. "That's not what we want to do here. We worked hard to become mentally tough enough to push this game to the past and move on to the next. We have a lot more games to worry about."
Indeed they do. If Missouri wins the next four contests, the Tigers will be headed to Atlanta for the SEC title game. The road is just a whole lot tougher now.
"This was a minor setback for us," Ray said. "There's many more steps that we have to take for the season. We're going to keep preparing, we're going to keep fighting forward."
Ray's linemate echoed that sentiment.
"Of course we want to make it to the SEC championship, but as of right now the goal is to win one game at a time," Markus Golden said. "We still have a lot do to. We just want to keep winning."
There always seems to be a scapegoat for a heartbreaking loss, and much abuse has been thrust upon Andrew Baggett, who missed the 25-yard field goal that handed South Carolina the 27-24 double-overtime win.
Baggett stood courageously in front of a throng of at least two dozen reporters Monday afternoon to take the blame.
"I missed it. It doesn't matter what those other things are," Baggett said, deflecting excuses that had been offered such as there being a high snap or bad hold. "I have to make that kick. If the ball's laying on the ground horizontal I have to make that kick. I didn't, and that's on me."
The backlash against the sophomore kicker expectedly permeated the social media world.
"There are 20-fold more positive comments (than negative comments) from Mizzou fans," Baggett said. "Anybody saying that Mizzou fans are terrible, absolutely not true.
"Nobody's comment will ever make me feel worse than what I did on that field. The negative comments, I don't pay attention to that. That doesn't affect me."
Added Pinkel: "You see the last play, so you point to the last play. That was a play of a number of plays that could have ended that game. I get a little bothered by that. My players are like my kids, and I get bothered when my people fire at a particular player. He's a Missouri Tiger. I understand fans are fans, but we're a family here, and obviously I get frustrated. I wish people would back off."
After spraining his right (throwing) shoulder Oct. 12 against Georgia, quarterback James Franklin (questionable) is now listed third on the depth chart heading into Saturday's contest. Franklin threw the ball in practice Sunday.
"Is he ready yet? We don't know at all," Pinkel said. "When he feels ready is when he'll play, and he'll move to the starting position when that happens. It's good to see him out there throwing around. ... When's he ready, he's ready. It's going to be up to him."
Cornerback E.J. Gaines will play Saturday after missing the past two weeks with a quad strain. ... Running back Henry Josey is listed as questionable with a mild concussion. ... Missouri's Nov. 9 game at Kentucky will be an 11 a.m. kickoff on either ESPNU or Fox Sports 1.