It's mid-October and the SEC is down to only two undefeated teams. One of those teams is Alabama, which comes as no surprise. The other one, however, is quite unexpected.
What should we make of the 5-0 Missouri Tigers?
This is a Missouri team that had a rough welcome to the SEC last season, going 5-7 on the year and 2-6 in conference play. Well, they've already matched last season's win total, but is this 5-0 start a byproduct of scheduling, or is there something more to this team?
Here's what we know for sure. The return of a healthy James Franklin at quarterback has made a huge difference for this Missouri team. Franklin has completed nearly 70% of his passes this season while throwing for 1,407 yards, 13 touchdowns and only three interceptions. He's also rushed for another 278 yards and two touchdowns.
We also know that in a year in which we've seen an offensive outburst in the SEC the Tigers are currently ranked second in the conference in total offense (543.8 yards per game) and points per game (46.6) while also ranking fourth in yards per play (7.06).
All of those numbers rank in the top ten nationally as well.
And while you can discount these numbers a bit because of the teams Missouri played out of conference -- though Murray State, Toledo, Indiana and Arkansas State are a combined 11-10 this year -- the Tigers performance against Vanderbilt was no less impressive. The Tigers offense racked up 523 yards and 51 points on the road against a Vanderbilt team that may not be an SEC powerhouse, but still won five games in conference last season.
When looking at Missouri's defense we see a team that's allowing 412.4 yards per game (77th nationally), but is only allowing 5.36 yards per play (53rd) and 22.4 points per game (41st). So while these numbers aren't quite on par with the offensive performance, they're still better than a lot of fellow SEC teams. In fact, when it comes to yards per play and points the only defense in the SEC East that has performed better is Florida.
So the numbers suggest that Missouri's success isn't just related to competition faced, but the quality of the team as well. If you want to get more advanced and use the S&P ratings from Football Outsiders -- an advanced metric that takes the quality of competiton into play -- the Tigers rank 28th in offense, 42nd in defense and 32nd overall. Numbers that once again show that while this team may not be a national title contender, it's a quality team.
But what will that be worth through an entire season of SEC play?
Well, without question the toughest games on Missouri's schedule are yet to be played. The next three weeks will be crucial for Missouri as it travels to Athens to face a Georgia team riddled with injuries and then hosts both Florida and South Carolina the two weeks after that.
Come the end of the month we'll know a lot more about how good this Missouri team actually is, but at the moment this is a start that cannot be dismissed as a fluke.