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Mizzou still in good shape in SEC East

Andrew Baggett
Andrew Baggett missed two field goals in Missouri's loss against South Carolina.
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Teddy Mitrosilis

Teddy Mitrosilis edits and writes college football for FOXSports.com. He previously worked on college football, MLB and other sports for ESPN.com and ESPN Insider, and played college baseball at Long Beach (Calif.) CC and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where he earned a degree in journalism. He also blogs about reading, writing and other things on his personal site. Please send tips and ideas to tmitrosilis@gmail.com.

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This quick camera cut late in South Carolina-Missouri sort of said everything.

It came a bit before the ending draped in heartbreak and right after Gary Pinkel decided to digest some 40 seconds and two timeouts, as if that was a healthier option than attempting to earn one last field goal try in regulation (perhaps it was).

As the fourth-quarter clock bled to 0:00, confirming Missouri had lost a 17-point lead in the final 15 minutes and would need more minutes to beat South Carolina and remain undefeated, a student appeared on screen. He was bare-chested, yellow caked onto his belly, and bent over. He slowly lifted his head, and a cloud of anger and angst hovered over his face. His arms flopped at his hips. He looked mentally broken, kind of like he knew.

Why didn’t we try to win it there? We KNOW we can’t survive overtime!

It was a strange feeling, being able to feel the agony of thousands of clogging throats more than a thousand miles away.

Missouri’s 27-24 loss in double overtime was shocking by definition – a 24-yard field goal we assumed would be made suddenly clanging off an upright – but it wasn’t unforeseen. It barreled in like the loudest of locomotives, and yes, it was brutal for Mizzou because of all the ways it could have gone otherwise.

South Carolina had become an assembly line of incomplete passes, so when the Gamecocks got the ball back down 17-0 with 6:46 left in the third quarter, Steve Spurrier inputted Connor Shaw at quarterback, who previously planned on sitting out the game with a sprained left knee. South Carolina’s offense began to trickle, then flow.

Shaw led two touchdown drives and another that ended in three points in the fourth quarter to get to overtime, ending the night 20-of-29 for 209 yards and three TDs. Missouri couldn’t defend simple screens to running back Mike Davis, who had 10 catches for 99 yards (five of those grabs coming in the fourth quarter), and then went vanilla on offense, trying to bleed the time. The worst would still come.

We’ll remember Andrew Baggett missing a chip shot in the second overtime that ended it, but that wasn’t any worse than Missouri’s defensive stand on fourth-and-goal from the 15-yard line in the first OT, needing one stop to win. The Tigers dropped seven into coverage – why not more? – and Shaw found an amazingly open Bruce Ellington in the right corner of the end zone. It wasn’t long until No. 5 Mizzou was undefeated no more.

The loss crushed the Tigers and Tigers fans. This is a fact, one that will be clipped and folded in with the other Missouri heartbreaks from years gone by, producing a torturous little Vine that will play ceaselessly today and for the rest of the week.

“Another Missouri nightmare” is how it will be sold, and, yes, that is true. But this is also true after the Tigers’ awful collapse to South Carolina: They should feel better than anyone else in the SEC East.

Let’s try to move beyond the emotion of Saturday night and consider the circumstances with a clear mind.

After nine weeks, Mizzou leads its division and is really competing with one team

If you would have offered this exact scenario to Pinkel before the season, I wonder how many seconds it would have taken him to accept it with unrestrained glee? Two? Fewer than two?

That’s the first sobering dose of reality for Missouri: Entering Week 10, it occupies a position of power. The Tigers have a one-loss lead over South Carolina, Florida and Georgia in the SEC East, but their only real threat is the Gamecocks.

Missouri holds tiebreakers over Florida and Georgia, one of which is guaranteed a third conference loss after they play each other on Nov. 2. Other than that game, Georgia still has a visit to Auburn and Florida plays at South Carolina. The Florida-Georgia winner would have to win out while Missouri loses two more SEC games for them to overtake the Tigers. That’s quite unlikely.

So that narrows a chaotic division down to two teams. South Carolina is in the best possible position without actually leading the race; Florida at home on Nov. 16 is its only tough test left, and it now holds the tiebreaker over Missouri.

Mizzou’s remaining schedule: Tennessee, at Kentucky, bye, at Ole Miss, Texas A&M. The back end isn’t simple, but I wouldn’t define this situation as anything close to dire. Mizzou should still have one loss when it travels to Ole Miss, at which point it will likely get a boost from the return of quarterback James Franklin.

If South Carolina loses to Florida during the Tigers’ bye week, well, all the better. If not, Mizzou still controls everything by winning its games.

Either way, if you had to choose the position of one SEC East team today, you would choose Missouri’s.

The Tigers are the healthiest team in the SEC East

I know: That doesn’t make sense considering they don’t have their starting quarterback and South Carolina has its primary contributors on the field.

But despite Connor Shaw’s gutsy play Saturday night, he still has a strained left knee that he was hobbling around on against Mizzou and, by nature, puts himself in positions to absorb hits. What are the chances we don’t see backup QB Dylan Thompson at some point against Florida, given the ferocity of UF's defense?

South Carolina’s other most important offensive player, Davis, is also banged up. He’s nursing an ankle injury and took a nasty hit to his right knee in overtime against Missouri, although he limped off the field and denied anything was wrong after the game.

Meanwhile, Georgia and Florida have been brutalized by injuries.

UGA running back Keith Marshall and wide receivers Malcolm Mitchell and Justin Scott-Wesley are all out for the season with torn ACLs. Running back Todd Gurley hasn’t played since spraining his ankle against LSU on Sept. 28, although he’s expected back for Florida next week. Receiver Michael Bennett tore his meniscus against Tennessee three weeks ago and is working back from surgery. Receiver Chris Conley (ankle) and safeties Josh Harvey-Clemons (foot) and Tray Matthews (hamstring) are dinged up and have uncertain statuses heading into the Cocktail Party.

Florida has almost half of a starting lineup out for the season, including quarterback Jeff Driskel, running back Matt Jones, receiver Andre DeBose, defensive tackle Dominique Easley and offensive tackle Chaz Green. The list of key contributors who have missed time but haven’t been declared out for the season runs much deeper.

In that context, Missouri missing Franklin (shoulder) for a stretch of time doesn’t look so awful, considering Maty Mauk has been more than capable as a backup. When Mizzou gets Franklin back for the two most important games left in its season, it will be in better shape than anyone else in the division.

Not to overlook Tennessee, but did you see the Vols on Saturday?

Running back Rajion Neal had a nice afternoon against Alabama, averaging 5.4 yards on 13 carries (70 yards total) with a touchdown, and Marquez North pulled in four balls for 87 yards, but that was about the extent of positives for the Vols in their 45-10 loss in Tuscaloosa.

Quarterback Justin Worley has spurts of above-average play – such as in last week’s win against South Carolina, when he posted an adjusted QBR of 83.9 (scale 0-100) – but he can never seem to sustain it. He was poor against the Tide, going 8-of-15 for 120 yards and two interceptions before coach Butch Jones decided to get freshman Joshua Dobbs’ feet wet in college football.

How is Worley and Tennessee going to do much of anything next week on the road against Michael Sam and Missouri’s defense? This game suddenly doesn’t seem as challenging for Mizzou.

Not to overlook Kentucky, but …

Actually, on second thought, we are going to overlook Kentucky.

That moves Missouri to 9-1 (5-1 SEC) heading into its bye week.

Texas A&M has no shot against Missouri’s O, but Missouri’s D has some shot against Manziel

If the Tigers can avoid an upset in Oxford in the penultimate week of the regular season, it could be that their SEC title game berth hinges on the outcome of their final game against the Aggies at home.

In a way, it seems inevitable that Johnny Manziel will play a role in how this turns out. But if this scenario does come to fruition, it’s not all bad for Missouri. While the Tigers don’t have a singular player as good as Manziel – nobody does – they certainly have the weapons to overwhelm Texas A&M’s defense.

Take the quarterbacks out of it for a second and begin on the ground. Henry Josey (5.8 yards per carry, eight TDs) and Marcus Murphy (7.7, seven) give the Tigers a favorable advantage against a Texas A&M rush defense that’s among the softest in the country. The Aggies rank 116th in the nation against the run – giving up 5.35 yards per clip – and would need to support their front seven, unless they’re cool with Missouri holding the ball for 58 minutes and 30 seconds of game clock.

If they pick their spots to commit an extra defender against the run, they weaken a pass defense that’s 84th in the country – allowing 7.5 yards per attempt – and going up against a formidable Missouri air attack that features freak athletes in L’Damian Washington and Dorial Green-Beckham. Clearly, the best defensive option for the Aggies here is a bunch of Johnny Manziel.

Missouri’s defense, in this instance, wouldn’t need to pitch a shutout or anything close to that. It would just need to offer up a bit of resistance. The Tigers are in the top 30 in the nation in pass defense at 6.5 yards per attempt – corner E.J. Gaines is a stud, with three picks on the year – and top 20 in run defense (3.41).

Facing the Aggies and Manziel anytime is difficult. But if you have to, aren’t these the sort of circumstances – mismatches in your favor and at home – in which you would want to do it?

Remember, Tigers, you control everything

Other than sitting in Los Angeles and yelling at the TV in shock when Baggett missed his field goal, I don’t have an emotional connection to Mizzou. Maybe that would make it impossible to view this with anything other than doom after what happened against South Carolina.

This isn’t an attempt to wash over Saturday night. It was an awful loss, one that will hurt regardless because it might have put a pin in Missouri’s BCS title hopes.

But as we move along and see what other carnage the SEC East has left in store for us, Missouri should take one thing away from Week 9: Every other team in the East needs help to win the SEC; you do not.

It’s been a great season already for the Tigers, and they’re still in a better position than anyone to end it in Atlanta.

The Buzzer

Five mostly irrelevant things that happened this week.

On the video board at the Texas A&M game, Manziel was asked to pick the three people he’d like to have dinner with. One of them was Charlie Sheen.

If you take nothing else away from Oklahoma’s win over Texas Tech, take away the joy of Bob Stoops getting trucked by his own player:

The young Ohio State fan who named his cancer “Michigan” -- and then beat it – was a special guest of the Buckeyes for the Penn State game. Awesome.

Bobby Bowden was honored at Florida State and got to plant the pregame spear:

Jayson Carter, a 4-foot-9 running back, saw his dream fulfilled against UTEP when he got a carry for Rice.

Notes from the nation

An assortment of links from around Week 9 in college football.

SEC

Missouri’s dream season is over, but it still has much to play for, writes Sam Mellinger.

It was Shaw, shank and redemption for the Gamecocks, writes Josh Kendall.

Alabama capped off a dominant October by whipping Tennessee, writes Andrew Gribble. That seemed to be the theme for the elite teams in Week 9. Florida State, Ohio State and Oregon also won handily.

Freshman QB Jeremy Johnson stepped up for Auburn after Nick Marshall went down with a shoulder injury, writes Joel A. Erickson.

Johnny Manziel shook off a shoulder injury and shined against Vanderbilt, writes Jimmy Burch.

PAC-12

The Oregon defense cranked it up in the second half and allowed the offense to pull away from UCLA, writes Ryan Thornburg.

Jim Mora’s Bruins are gaining but still have work to do, writes Chris Dufresne.

CANDY FOR THE EARS

Clay Travis' own FOX Sports podcast is here. Head on over to iTunes to listen and subscribe for free.

Stanford’s defense stepped up and contained the explosive Oregon State offense, writes Tom FitzGerald. Very nice win for the Cardinal against Sean Mannion and Brandin Cooks, one of the most dynamic quarterback-receiver duos in the country. Stanford can now turn its attention to Oregon.

The Beavers’ gutsy calls didn’t pay off against the Cardinal, writes Lindsay Schnell.

Josh Shaw switched from safety to corner and came through for depleted USC, writes Gary Klein.

BIG 12

Oklahoma got a big win against Texas Tech but also suffered a big loss by losing Trey Millard to a torn ACL, writes Ryan Aber. Tough loss for the Sooners, but they carry on and will move closer to the top 10, with a big opportunity at Baylor coming up.

With 219 rushing yards from Desmond Roland, Oklahoma State cruised past Iowa State, writes Gina Mizell.

Kansas State rallied against West Virginia and snapped its three-game losing streak, writes Kellis Robinett.

Texas waited out some bad weather at TCU to beat the Horned Frogs and gain a share of the Big 12 lead, writes Chuck Carlton.

ACC

Behind Duke Johnson, Miami slipped by Wake Forest, writes Susan Miller Degnan.

In Blacksburg, Duke got its first win over a ranked opponent since 1994 by beating No. 14 Virginia Tech, writes Laura Keeley.

WE ARE FIRED UP!

College football fans are some of the most passionate in sports. See them in action.

North Carolina beat Boston College and finally had something to celebrate, writes Andrew Carter.

Clemson overcame some miscues and was too much for Maryland, writes Alex Prewitt.

Another week, another dominating performance for Jameis Winston and Florida State, writes Brendan Sonnone.

BIG TEN

Ohio State crushed Penn State to extend its win streak to 20, writes Bill Rabinowitz.

If Minnesota can beat Nebraska, anything is possible, writes Patrick Reusse.

Michigan State rolled Illinois to improve to 7-1 and stay atop the Legends division, writes Joe Rexrode.

Iowa exorcised its purple demons just in time, writes Rick Brown.

OTHERS

Fresno State survived overtime at San Diego State to keep its BCS hopes alive, writes Bryant-Jon Anteola.

Houston is now 6-1 after hammering Rutgers, writes Joseph Duarte.

Nick Sloan redeemed himself and kicked a game-winning field goal as Navy beat Pitt, writes Gene Wang.

Jordan Lynch and Northern Illinois are still undefeated after blasting Eastern Michigan, writes Ross Jacobson.

Tagged: Texas A&M, Missouri, Florida, Kentucky, Tennessee, South Carolina, Georgia, Texas, James Franklin, Johnny Manziel, Connor Shaw, Justin Worley, Duke, Florida State, Virginia, Miami (FL), Illinois, Iowa, Michigan, Ohio State, Oregon State, Stanford, Washington, UCLA, USC, Oregon, Rice, Navy, Houston, Miami (OH), Northern Illinois, Ohio, Alabama, Auburn, Oklahoma State, Oklahoma, Kansas, Jeremy Johnson, Andrew Carter, Josh Shaw, Andrew Baggett, Michael Sam, Josh Harvey, Andre Debose, Nick Marshall

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