November 28, 2007

Pinkel's plan springs into action

This is what happens when you coach the No. 1 team in the nation. Everyone wants to know, "How did you do it? How did you bring this program up from nowhere to the top of the college football world?" That is just a quick synopsis of the questions Gary Pinkel faced at a media day that tripled the attendance of any other in his seven years as Missouri's head coach.

"That's something that the seniors when they came in last February, they came in and talked to me about wanting to win at a higher level. Obviously, goal wise, to go to a bowl every year is important, but just to go to a bowl, they wanted to be different," Pinkel said. "They wanted to make that next move. That's when it really started. I think that's when they started really thinking outside the box, saying, 'Okay, the bowl stuff's nice--and obviously we want to win bowl games, we're not winning enough--but we want to win at the highest level."

Pinkel cannot answer such questions without addressing his senior class. The group is being viewed as the class that turned the corner for Missouri's long downtrodden Tigers.

The recruiting messages are becoming much easier to believe these days. But when Tiger coaches sat in the living rooms of players like Martin Rucker, Jason Ray and Will Franklin back in the falls of 2002 and 2003, it took some faith--let's be honest, it took a lot of faith--for players to buy what they were selling.

And now, sixty minutes separate the Missouri Tigers from their first Big 12 championship. Sixty more could lead to the first national title in school history. It may still be a dream, but it is one that is now, for the first time, most definitely within reach. The journey that started in high schools and living rooms across the Midwest five years ago now has just two more stops. Franklin, and the rest of the Tiger seniors, have faith they might know how it ends. Why not? That faith has brought them so far.

"They didn't tell me anything," Franklin said, "That hasn't come true."

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