SEC East's Power: No More Waiting, Missouri Is a National Program

Dan Irwin@irwinsportsCorrespondent IIFebruary 26, 2015

Gary Pinkel has led Missouri from being a Midwest joke to an SEC power.
Gary Pinkel has led Missouri from being a Midwest joke to an SEC power.David Richard/Associated Press

It's the team that Vegas doesn't know what to do with. Missouri isn't favored to win in nearly every game it plays but somehow has pulled off top recruits and 23 wins over the last two seasons, a number eclipsed only by Alabama. It simply keeps finding a way to defy the odds.

Georgia fans are beside themselves after seeing this Tiger team from the north essentially dance into the SEC and have incredible success. Head coach Gary Pinkel has excelled at the most important part of his job—winning—and looked really good while doing so.

Recruiting has been the name of the game. In three years, Missouri has landed commitments from the nation’s No. 1 overall recruit in 2013 by Rivals in Dorial Green-Beckham and the No. 2 overall player in 2015 by ESPN in Terry Beckner Jr. In addition, it's entirely possible that Pinkel has had classes that may have previously been overlooked.

Reinforcing this, a new re-ranking of the 2012 signing class by Andy Staples of Sports Illustrated, Mizzou skyrocketed from the No. 31 ranked class (as originally ranked by Rivals) to No. 5 in the country. It shows that everything Pinkel and his staff are doing is an absolute model of how to win. Being "MizzouMade" is beginning to stand out.

But how do you measure the power of a program? A year of success can excite fans and alumni but isn't the measuring stick of greatness. It's consistently pulling off the things that are related to your job, which Pinkel might as well have a Ph.D. in.

Pinkel was shown a solo award for his talent in December when—a year after becoming the school's all-time winningest coach—he was named SEC Coach of the Year. Having won this award previously in the Big 12 Conference, it puts Pinkel in a rare category of coaches who have won the award in two different leagues during their peak in college football.

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The awards are products of what Pinkel’s teams have shown on the field in those seasons. In fact, since his previous award, Pinkel’s Tigers squads have won an impressive 75 games, making them a top-five team in that category.

Missouri’s success isn’t limited to being on the field. They stand as the leader in academics in the SEC and are among the best in the nation. In 2013, Pinkel received a letter from NCAA President Mark Emmert, acknowledging the University’s success as a whole. More recently, last year Missouri was tied for the No. 1 spot in the SEC with relation to football academic-progress-rate scores.

But to see the total success of the program, simply take a look to the NFL. Mizzou players are going into the NFL in numbers and are having such success. That is like any group of trained professionals that reflects strongly on their training institution.

A total of 20 former Missouri players are currently on NFL rosters. Much was being made of the Tigers going into last season being “down” at wide receiver. When everything is said and done following the 2015 NFL draft and free-agency pickups, this “down” bunch may have three names in Bud Sasser, Jimmie Hunt and Darius White all playing on Sundays.

Missouri hasn't been able to beat Alabama or Auburn in the title games they've played, but it certainly competed well in both games. With all criteria on its resume, the change in culture and the lockdown of local recruiting, it's time that we start calling Missouri what it has shown to be by the fruits of its labor: a national team.

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