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August 28, 2013

Powered Up: SEC Second Chance

Perhaps Missouri's first season in the SEC would best be summed up by a three-decades old Head & Shoulders commercial. If you didn't want to spend 30 seconds watching the linked video, the tag line is "Because you never get a second chance to make a first impression."

The Tigers' first impression has been made. And it wasn't good. Plenty have opined on Mizzou's first tour through college football's Goliath of a league. Few have summed it up as bluntly as defensive end Kony Ealy.

"Last year we kind of had our heads up our butts," Ealy said.

Well, there you go. Care to explain further?

"Just amongst each other every now and then, kind of blaming, pointing the finger, not owning up to our responsibilities," Ealy said. "We have a group of leaders, of self-starters, the team is much better off and we saw that last year just playing against the opposite side, teams like South Carolina, Alabama, they all played as a unit. We got that now, so we can't wait to get out and show it."

What Ealy says about last year is fairly accurate from everything I've heard. There was discord in the locker room that may have started as early as the Pain Killer Fiasco and Missouri's win over Arizona State. The Tigers never seemed to be a team completely on the same page.

Whether it has really changed, who knows? Every team in the history of sports that has underachieved has come back the next year talking about how the bad apples are gone, the problems are diagnosed, and things are looking up. Sometimes it's true, sometimes it isn't.

We'll start finding out on Saturday night when the Tigers face Murray State in the 2013 opener. Now, don't get me wrong here. We're probably not going to actually learn anything about this Tiger team against the Racers. If they win by six touchdowns, well, they should. If the game is close, well, we may learn a little something and it won't be good news.

But the opponent on Saturday night isn't all that important. What is important is that there will finally be something else to talk about.

For the better part of nine months, every question about Missouri football, every lengthy message board discussion, every call to a talk radio show, has revolved around last year. What went wrong? Can it be fixed? Did Missouri make a huge mistake thinking it was ready to compete in the Southeastern Conference?

As of about 9 p.m. Saturday, there will be something else to chew on. Finally.

"For me personally I haven't been focused on last year since I got hurt," offensive tackle Justin Britt said. "I've been looking forward to this year and putting all my effort into Murray State. It's good to have other questions brought in, but I've already forgotten about it."

"I'm so ready," center Evan Boehm echoed. "It's something that needs to be brought up, but it's also something that needs to be put away in the past. That's what we're looking forward to."

No matter what happens this season, it won't erase last year. It will simply provide us all some context. Did the Tigers finish 5-and-7 because injuries ravaged the roster and put them at the World Series of Poker head table holding a pair of twos? Or did last season go the way it did because the Tigers were a team built for the Big 12 that will take years to become siginficant in their new home?

At this point, we don't know. We have questions. We have opinions. We have guesses. We have no answers. Those will start to come on Saturday night and periodically trickle out over the next 14 weeks. No one is more ready than the players themselves.

"We went into this offseason with a bitter taste in our mouth, man," offensive guard Max Copeland said. "That's how we trained. We trained angry. We were angry. We were dissatisfied. We think we deserve better than what we gave ourselves and now it's time to get what we deserve."

What is it these Tigers deserve? We don't know. For now, there is only Saturday night. It is Missouri's first chance to make a second impression. If it's the same as the first, that memory will take much longer to fade.

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