Breaking down the Tigers’ appearance in the national rankings


ST. LOUIS —
For the first time since the second week of the 2011 season, the Tigers are back in the Associated Press Top 25.

While Gary Pinkel’s squad fell just short (26th) of this week’s USA Today Coaches’ Poll, it landed the 25th spot in the sportswriters’ hearts Sunday.

Thanks to Pollspeak.com, we can break it down even more.

Mizzou received 36 votes from the pool of 60 writers who cast a ballot every week. Brent Axe, a sportswriter for the Syracuse Post-Standard, thought the most of Mizzou; he assigned the team his No. 18 spot, above Texas Tech, Northwestern, Washington, Oklahoma State, Fresno State, Auburn and Northern Illinois. Twenty-four pollsters left the Tigers off their ballots.

So, does any of this stuff matter? Coaches and players will tell you no, absolutely not. But rankings increase exposure. Top 25 means a program is in the national discussion, and that’s good publicity, especially for potential recruits.

Oh, and one more thing. That 2011 team finished 8-5 after beating North Carolina in the Independence Bowl.

LIMPING DAWGS

Mizzou knows all too well how injuries can turn a season on its head. Now Georgia is feeling the same pain. In what will be the biggest game of the Tigers’ season, Mizzou faces a No. 7 Bulldogs team that is getting thin fast.

Georgia (4-1, 3-0 SEC) had to sit three players — running back Todd Gurley (ankle), safety Tray Matthews (hamstring) and safety Connor Norman (concussion) — in its last game. That trio is still day to day, according to Georgia coach Mark Richt.

And that’s just the beginning.

Four more Bulldogs went down with injuries in this weekend’s shootout win over Tennessee. Running back Keith Marshall and wide receiver Justin Scott-Wesley suffered season-ending knee injuries. Receiver Michael Bennett also injured a knee, and punter Collin Barber sustained a concussion.

If healthy, the Bulldogs appear to be a lock to win the SEC East. But can they do it with a depleted roster?

SAM THE MAN

After leading the Tigers with 4 1/2 sacks last season, Mizzou defensive end Michael Sam failed to come up with one in his first three games.

Now he has six in two weeks.

After torturing Arkansas State quarterback Adam Kennedy enough to earn last week’s SEC Defensive Lineman of the Week award, Sam gave an encore performance in Nashville. He sacked Vanderbilt quarterback Austyn Carta-Samuels three times and was named SEC Defensive Lineman of the Week again. His six sacks have totaled a loss of 32 yards.

For some perspective, Sam is the first Mizzou player to receive weekly conference honors twice in a season since safety Pig Brown locked down the Big 12 in 2007.

JOB WELL DONE

If I’m going to point out when Mizzou kicker Andrew Baggett struggles, it’s only fair to pat him on the back for a job well done. He was stellar in Mizzou’s thumping of Vanderbilt.

Baggett had sent just 50 percent of his kicks through the upright headed into Saturday. That’s not good. But he finished 3 of 3 against Vandy and also nailed six extra-point attempts. His field goals came from 44, 29 and 41 yards. His percentage has ticked up from 50 to 66.7.

TWEET OF THE WEEK


Follow Ben Frederickson on Twitter (@Ben_Fred), or contact him at frederickson.ben@gmail.com