Missouri Proves Itself as a Potential SEC East Champ in Win over Florida

Barrett Sallee@BarrettSalleeSEC Football Lead WriterOctober 19, 2013

COLUMBIA, MO - OCTOBER 19:  Quarterback Maty Mauk #7 of the Missouri Tigers carries the ball upfield during the game against the Florida Gators at Faurot Field/Memorial Stadium on October 19, 2013 in Columbia, Missouri.  (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
Jamie Squire/Getty Images

Raise your hands if you thought in August that, in mid-October, we'd be discussing the possibility of Missouri taking home the SEC East crown.

Put your hand down. No you didn't.

But here we are on Oct. 19 with undefeated Missouri—yes, Missouri—as not only a contender, but the unquestioned front-runner in the SEC East.

After upsetting Georgia last weekend in Athens, Missouri looked fantastic in Saturday's 36-17 win over Florida in Columbia. The Tigers improved their record to 7-0 (3-0 SEC) and once again won by two or more touchdowns. 

Filling in for injured quarterback James Franklin, redshirt freshman Maty Mauk finished 18-of-36 passing for 295 yards and two touchdowns (one run, one pass) against the best defense in the SEC. Running back Henry Josey looked like he was back to his 2011 form as well, rushing for 136 yards and a score.

But it wasn't just what Missouri did on Saturday that has the Tigers in the East's driver's seat, it was what happened elsewhere.

South Carolina—which entered Saturday with one conference loss on its résuméfell 23-21 on a last-second field goal by Michael Palardy. Meanwhile, in Nashville, Vanderbilt came back from a 10-point hole with backup quarterback Patton Robinette taking the snaps to upset Georgia, 31-27, and hand the Bulldogs their second SEC loss of the season.

Oct 19, 2013; Columbia, MO, USA; Missouri Tigers head coach Gary Pinkel walks back to the sidelines during the first half of the game against the Florida Gators at Faurot Field. Mandatory Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports
Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

In three short hours, Missouri built at least a two-game lead over the rest of the division with head-to-head tiebreakers over Florida and Georgia.

Sports Illustrated's Stewart Mandel summed up the afternoon nicely.

Be sure to hit The Varsity when you're in Atlanta, Mizzou fans.

— Stewart Mandel (@slmandel) October 19, 2013

There's plenty of football left, but it's time to wrap your arms around the idea of Missouri representing the SEC East in the conference championship game, because it looks incredibly likely at this point.

The Tigers' next two games are against South Carolina and Tennessee. They should be favored in both, even with the redshirt freshman Mauk filling in for Franklin. Missouri looked like it didn't miss a beat with Mauk in there against Florida and, more importantly, the play-calling didn't look like it changed at all. The Tigers racked up 500 yards of total offense on Saturday. 

COLUMBIA, MO - OCTOBER 19:  Quarterback Tyler Murphy #3 of the Florida Gators is hit by defensive lineman Kony Ealy #47 of the Missouri Tigers during the game at Faurot Field/Memorial Stadium on October 19, 2013 in Columbia, Missouri.  (Photo by Jamie Squ
Jamie Squire/Getty Images

Think about that for a second—this wasn't some scrub defense; this was Florida.

While a sweep in the next two conference games wouldn't officially clinch it for the Tigers—they have Kentucky, Ole Miss and Texas A&M remaining after this two-game stretch—it's hard to conceive a way in which they'll collapse if they hand the Gamecocks and Vols their third conference losses of the season.

When the SEC added Texas A&M and Missouri prior to the 2012 season, Missouri seemed like the team that was more set up for short-term success, while A&M would be the one with staying power. Injuries derailed the Tigers' season in 2012, while Aggie quarterback Johnny Manziel led Texas A&M into the national spotlight. 

As it turns out though, Missouri is on the fast track to beat its former Big 12 foe in the race to Atlanta, and it has itself to thank.

Florida is beat up and entirely too one-dimensional on offense, Georgia is also banged-up and can't play a lick of defense and South Carolina shot itself in the foot on Saturday afternoon in Knoxville.

While other teams coached around adversity, got too cute with timeouts (looking at you, Steve Spurrier) and adjusted game plans based on personnel, Missouri owned its identity.

If this keeps up, it'll own the SEC East in 2013.