Team preview: Missouri

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(All information as of June 20, 2008)

Gary Pinkel knows his team faced high expectations going into last year -- but that pressure will pale in comparison to what the Tigers will be staring down this fall. After improving by four wins and rising to a No. 1 ranking in the nation for the first time since 1960, Missouri enters the season poised for what could be the most exciting and successful campaign in school history.

But the Tigers got a taste of such lofty preseason expectations last year, and Pinkel was happy with how his team responded.

"I thought we would handle it well, and I think the results show that we did," Pinkel said. "It was pressure-packed -- we were in basically an elimination situation the last six weeks of the season, and we handled it. I think you learn from that and that carries over a little bit."

When Pinkel refers to an elimination situation, for once he's not talking about bowl eligibility. The Tigers knew they were in the running for the national title from about midseason on, and when they capped an 11-1 regular season with a thrilling 36-28 victory over archrival Kansas at Arrowhead Stadium, they were just one win away from playing in the BCS title game. But Missouri was tripped up by Oklahoma for a second time, sending the Tigers to the Cotton Bowl, where they took out their frustration on an overmatched Arkansas squad to emphatically punctuate a season epitomized by a prolific offense and a steadily improving defense.