So where does Missouri go from here?
After what began as a magical 7-0 start to the 2013 season took a temporary detour on Saturday when an Andrew Baggett field goal attempt dinged off the right goal post at Faurot Field against South Carolina in overtime. After that 27-24 loss, the undefeated season vanished, but it 2013 still can be a special one for the Tigers.
Missouri is No. 9 in the BCS standings, so it's not like this team has been reduced to rubble. The SEC Eastern Division crown is still Missouri's to lose, as it's the only East team that controls its own destiny with just one conference loss. A BCS bowl game isn't out of question, either. Winning out and taking home the SEC crown in Atlanta would at least guarantee a trip to New Orleans for the Allstate Sugar Bowl. And, hey, if Missouri wins out and beats No. 1 Alabama there's a chance the BCS title game will be waiting. Other teams in front of Mizzou would need to lose, but it isn't impossible.
So, yes, Saturday was heartbreaking for Mizzou, but there's still plenty this team can accomplish. What has to happen now is mental regrouping. Saturday was rough, but it's over. Losses like this -- especially when you blow a 17-0 lead in the fourth quarter and generate just 39 yards and two first downs in the final frame -- can have a negative effect on teams. They can linger and poison preparation and focus.
That has to be a real concern for a team that did a complete 180 after a 5-7 2012 year, so coach Gary Pinkel has to rally his guys. The good news is that there is a lot of veteran leadership. This team wouldn't even be in this situation without it. One roadblock can't derail this team.
But expect a lot of eyes to be on redshirt freshman quarterback Maty Mauk. As long as senior James Franklin is on the sideline with that shoulder injury, this is Mauk's team. He was a proven winner in high school and is 1-1 as the Tigers' starter, but everything is different now. The pressure is on Mizzou, which means it's only growing for Mauk. Win, and you're in Atlanta. Lose, and the pressure mounts as teams like South Carolina, Georgia and Florida creep closer and closer.
Tennessee, Ole Miss and No. 12 Texas A&M are still on the schedule.
This team has had a ton of success already. The offense has been fantastic, averaging just under 500 yards a game. It's averaging almost 7 yards per play and 41.8 points per game. Three receivers -- L'Damian Washington, Dorial Green-Beckham and Marcus Lucas -- have more than 445 receiving yards and three running backs -- Henry Josey, Russell Hansbrough and Marcus Murphy -- have more than 400 rushing yards.
The defense leads the SEC with 25 sacks, and defensive end Michael Sam is making a strong case to be the nation's best defensive player with his 10 sacks (tied for first nationally) and nation-leading 16 tackles for loss.
But those achievements mattered little when the Tigers lost for the first time in almost a year. That second-half collapse, in which they allowed a gimpy Connor Shaw to throw for 209 yards and three touchdowns in a little more than a quarter of work, had to be tough to endure. Fifteen minutes away from essentially clinching the SEC East vanished with a valiant Gamecocks comeback. That game-ending missed field goal only piled onto those 15 minutes of pain.
But the Tigers can't let that final quarter and the overtimes define the season. There's too much left to do and too much talent on the field.