Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Tigers Tired of Talking about SEC, Set for Camp; with 12 Returning Starters, MU Will Trail Most of the Teams in Its New Conference

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Tigers Tired of Talking about SEC, Set for Camp; with 12 Returning Starters, MU Will Trail Most of the Teams in Its New Conference

Article excerpt

Once Missouri coach Gary Pinkel and his travel companions landed in Birmingham, Ala., for Southeastern Conference media days, it was hard to escape the slant of questions regarding the move from the Big 12.

The tone: Can the Tigers be competitive now that they're in the big leagues?

"I've got a place down in Florida, go down there sometimes," Pinkel told reporters in Birmingham. "People act like we've been playing a bunch of high school teams. We've played in a pretty big league."

Mizzou officials have spent a lot of time in SEC land in recent months, from the league's spring meetings in Florida to a welcoming reception in Atlanta and finally the media event.

Now ensconced in Columbia for training camp, which starts this afternoon, Pinkel would love to have the emphasis fall back onto the Tigers instead of how they can possibly survive in the SEC.

Maybe more important is how much progress Pinkel and his staff can make in preparing a team that will be one of the most inexperienced in its new conference.

The numbers vary depending on how they're calculated, but Mizzou is clearly at the bottom of the list of returning starters with five on offense, six on defense and a punter by most evaluations. That's 12 returning starters in a conference that averages 16.

Pinkel has a month before the season opener to develop some key contributors and the kind of depth that could be crucial in the SEC.

For Missouri, however, there are some extenuating circumstances when it comes to starting roles.

- Offensive tackle Elvis Fisher didn't play last season but is returning from a knee injury after making 40 consecutive starts.

- Linebacker Will Ebner will take over in the middle after injuries kept him from doing so in 2011. He made 15 starts the previous two years.

- Running back Kendial Lawrence started only four games, three after Henry Josey was hurt. But he had won the job coming out of camp.

- Trey Barrow handled field goal duties the last six games but was passed on the depth chart at the end of the spring by Andrew Baggett.

You can count the returning starters however you like. The bottom line is that not many Tigers were mainstays a year ago. …

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