Maybe it was just perspective, because others seem to remember the same amount of battering surrounding Texas A&M, but I remember being slightly taken aback at the number of questions that Gary Pinkel faced at SEC Media Days last year that more or less boiled down to whether Missouri was an imposter in the SEC. My perception, before we all knew about the talent of Johnny Manziel and the cavalcade of injuries that would destroy the Tigers' 2012 season, was that Mizzou would have an easier time adjusting to the SEC in the short-term than A&M.
The 5-7 debut season didn't help, though, and there was still a little bit of a stigma about Missouri in some part of the SEC fan base, a feeling that that the Tigers didn't quite belong. They were too Yankee, or they really wanted to be B1G, or they didn't play the sort of physical football that SEC legends are made of. The reasons varied, but the essence was the same: Missouri wasn't really an SEC team.
That argument should pretty much be gone by now. With a 28-21 win against Texas A&M in which Manziel was pretty much contained and Missouri's offensive stars put together a highlight reel, the Tigers won their first SEC East title and became the SEC expansion team to make it to Atlanta in the shortest amount of time in the league. It took Arkansas until its fourth season in the conference and South Carolina until its 19th to win a division. Ole Miss, Kentucky, Vanderbilt and (of course) Texas A&M still haven't made it to the Georgia Dome so far. Yes, Missouri belongs.
And about that win Saturday night: You want SEC defense? Try holding Manziel to 1.9 yards a carry on the ground rushing, with his longest run going for six yards. Or limiting him to 5.6 yards per passing attempt. Offense? Try James Franklin going 18-of-28 for 233 yards and two touchdowns while rushing for 80 yards on 18 carries. Or Henry Josey, for churning out 96 yards on 13 rushes, including a 57-yard touchdown run that won the game. Or maybe the 90-plus receiving yards posted by both L'Damian Washington and Dorial Green-Beckham, each with a touchdown catch to boot.
So yes, after going 7-1 with wins against every SEC East team except South Carolina and a sweep of one of the tougher interdivision slates in the East, Missouri has proven that it's good enough to play football here. The questions that were raised in the summer of 2012 have been answered resoundingly in the autumn of 2013. And if they can come up with some answers to Auburn in the Georgia Dome on Saturday, it will look particularly ridiculous that some of us were asking those questions to begin with.