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December 17, 2013
Nine days since its SEC title-game loss to Auburn, Missouri practiced again in preparation for the AT&T Classic Cotton Bowl in Arlington on Jan. 3.
What was lost that evening in Atlanta -- Auburn's win advanced those Tigers to the BCS National Championship game in Pasadena -- isn't lost on Missouri's players. But, on Monday inside of Devine Pavilion, these Tigers said they've moved on.
"It hurt for a while," senior receiver Marcus Lucas said. "Those next couple of days, we took it hard. All the stuff we fought for, the whole season, it's just too bad it didn't come together at the end."
Missouri, like most college football teams, lives by the 24-hour cliche. The team has 24 hours to celebrate a win or mourn a loss. After that, it's on to the next task. Lucas, and some of his teammates, admitted that this loss didn't necessarily follow that mantra.
But a week off provided the team with the ability to find some closure. Finding out their bowl destination and opponent (Oklahoma State) helped. Perspective also allowed the players to move on. But even in those moments, what was lost still comes up.
"We realized that all the goals we set, until the SEC championship, that was something that was huge for us," Lucas said. "Winning all the games we won. You can't really ask for a whole lot better of a season.
"If we did, we'd be in the national championship. One game away."
"I guess it didn't have a definitive moment," senior guard Max Copeland said. "It's a process. We're very methodical as a team. In order to overcome whatever the outcome was, whether it was a win or a loss, you have to extract all the information, all the wisdom you can, from the past experiences.
"Until you do that, you shouldn't move on from a loss or a win until you've learned everything. It took a couple of days. There was an emotional aspect and also because there was a lot to learn from that game."
At some point, however, the team had to officially put it behind them. The moment was different for different players, but Monday was the official delineation between a tough loss and the next opportunity.
So, Auburn is gone. Oklahoma State is next. It's a game that represents a lot for so many players. Receiver Darius White said his exit off the highway is two exits away from AT&T Stadium. His brother, 2014 Mizzou commitment Stepfawn Hughes, will be able to come to the game and watch him play, before they get to play alongside each other in 2014.
Offensive coordinator Josh Henson gets another crack at his alma mater, this time as Missouri's offensive coordinator. He's downplaying the significance there, however.
It's the old conference vs. the new conference. It's another game in a recruiting area that Missouri still views as very important for its future.
This game is many things. Now that the team is over Auburn, running back Henry Josey -- another Texan Tiger -- said those Atlanta ghosts won't haunt them on Jan. 3.
"We had to (put it behind us)," Josey said. "We've done a great job this season of getting over things, putting it behind us so we can keep moving forward as a team. This team's story isn't finished yet. We still got one game to finish out the season right and send these seniors out the right way.