Missouri was coming off a 5-7 season overall with a 2-6 conference record in its first, albeit injury ravaged, season in the SEC. It was widely accepted it would take years for Missouri to be a factor in the conference.
Auburn was facing an even taller task despite its pedigree. The Tigers were breaking in a new head coach after coming off a 3-9 campaign that featured an 0-8 finish in the East.
The improvement for both teams started with the players not buying into the national perception.
“Last year wasn’t their best year; it wasn’t our best year. They’re a motivate team. The guys in that (Auburn) locker room, I would assume were the only guys that believed in them before the season started,” Mizzou senior receiver LaDamian Washington said. “Whenever you have something like this, something special happens. You saw it against Alabama and at the Georgia game. The team has a special mojo going for them right now. We have the same thing going right now. We’re a team that definitely believes and has a lot of confidence going for us right now.”
Last year snapped a seven-year streak of going to bowl games for Mizzou, which is something that has motivated this team since the 2012 season ended.
“After we didn’t go to a bowl game last year, I came back and a lot of the guys were back early from winter break,” Washington said. “I saw a lot of the guys from the weight in the indoor putting in extra work and saying how excited they were to get back on the field next year.”
Auburn had much more uncertainty coming into the season with a new staff and a potential rebuilding process on its hands. One main goal was set by the team and its new coach before the start of practice.
Accomplish the biggest turnaround in college football.
“Coach Malzahn called us into his office before we started two-a-days, and he asked us the goals for the season. Across the board we all said that we just wanted to have the biggest turnaround in college football history, and that was our biggest thing,” Auburn defensive tackle Nosa Eguae said. “We knew that everything else will take care of itself, but if we get better every day we’ll have the biggest turnaround in college football. We didn’t even put wins and losses on that. We just wanted to worry about having the biggest turnaround.”
Both teams are riding high coming into the game after Auburn’s last-second heroics in both the Alabama and Georgia games and Mizzou’s back-to-back wins over Top 25 teams to make it here.
Pinkel didn’t pay much attention to the media’s preseason thoughts of his team, but his players did and that is one factor that he thinks has helped get his team this far.
“Honestly, I had no idea what we were ranked coming out,” Pinkel said. “I think the players did. I kind of thank everybody for that because I think that motivates them. I really didn’t look at it. (It) didn’t really matter to me. To them it did. Certainly, they’re competitive and have a lot of pride.”
Mizzou and Auburn have a chance to continue their magical seasons at 3 p.m. this Saturday in Atlanta at the Georgia Dome.
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