AP NEWS

‘SEC Nation’ brings optimism to Missouri fans

September 10, 2017 GMT

When Caleb Biggs heard that “SEC Nation” was coming to Columbia for Missouri’s Saturday matchup against South Carolina, he thought there was no way he’d meet Tim Tebow, an analyst on the show.

Biggs, a freshman at MU, left the Francis Quadrangle on Saturday with a signed Florida Tebow jersey, the opportunity to ask Tebow a question on live TV and a huge smile on his face.

“He’s probably in my top two, if not my favorite athlete,” Biggs said after meeting Tebow. “So just to meet him, I don’t know. It’s amazing. He’s humble and cool. Just to take time to come over and sign my jersey and talk to us, that’s awesome. You can see I’m excited.”

Biggs was shaking with excitement. And when an “SEC Nation” crew member came up to a group Biggs was standing in asking if anyone wanted to ask a question to be aired on TV, Biggs jumped at the chance.

When the camera got to him, Biggs had to ask his question — an inquiry about what Missouri’s offense has to do to keep the defense off the field as much as it can — three times before he was able to say it smoothly.

“It was just a little nerve-wracking,” Biggs said. “But I’m so happy right now; nothing can bring me down.”

Just like Biggs, a multitude of Missouri fans flocked to the “SEC Nation” set on the Quad ahead of the Tigers’ 6 p.m. kickoff Saturday. Many of them arrived early with hopes of meeting Tebow and the others on the show — co-analysts Paul Finebaum and Marcus Spears and host Laura Rutledge — or with hopes of being on TV during the live show.

Missouri senior CJ Ashley and Moberly Area Community College student Anthony Cook showed up at 6:30 a.m. for the 9 a.m. show. Cook was dressed as a cow and held a sign that said, “Eat Mor Chikin,” with a Missouri Tiger’s head eating a South Carolina Gamecock.

“It’s crazy here,” Cook said. “We’re ready to eat some chicken tonight and beat the Gamecocks.”

That was the feeling of many Missouri fans on the Quad during the live show. Marching Mizzou was out in full force, and Big MO, the bass drum played at games, was in the background of the set. Black-and-gold frosted doughnuts were handed out for free, along with SEC koozies. When Finebaum yelled “M-I-Z!” to the crowd, the crowd yelled back, “Z-O-U!”

There seemed to be a wave of optimism ahead of a game that could make or break Missouri’s season.

Clyde Wright, who attended Missouri in the 1960s and played offensive guard for the freshman team back then, certainly thought so. Wright has held season tickets to football and basketball games for almost 60 years and drove to Columbia from St. Louis Friday night to attend Friday’s athletics donor dinner on the Quad.

“I think ‘SEC Nation’ coming here is awesome for the community,” Wright said. “I think it gives us exposure, which we need. I’m excited to see the future of the university head toward a very positive way. I met (athletic director) Jim Sterk last night, and I think he’s going to do a lot of great things for Mizzou. And athletics is an important part of the college process. I’m liking what I’m seeing so far. It’d be better if we won about eight games this year, but that’s a high hurdle.”

With all of the optimism oozing out of many Tigers fans on Saturday morning, there were still some mumblings about the size of the crowd. Around 8 a.m., there were about 100 people on the Quad, but many more showed up when the live show started around 9 a.m.

Michael Porter Jr. and Jontay Porter made an appearance on the show around 9:45 a.m. and participated in the Tailgate Challenge. The brothers who have breathed life into Missouri’s basketball program played cornhole and amassed a total of 21 points. After the Porters left the set, though, people began to leave, until there were around 150-200 people left at the ending of the show.

“I don’t think it’s quite up to the level of other SEC schools, but it’s not too bad,” said Matt Souther, a Missouri business professor who went to Auburn and wore an Auburn polo to “SEC Nation” on Saturday. “I think they’re still kind of viewed as the outsider of the conference. In order to be accepted, Mizzou will have to win a championship. They were competitive a few years ago, but I think it’ll take a good effort to get back to that.”

Despite the optimism about Saturday’s game from the decent-sized crowd, one worry was repeated, over and over: Missouri’s defensive woes.

The Tigers gave up 43 points to Missouri State, an FCS team, in a 72-43 win last week. The “SEC Nation” analysts didn’t hold back when talking about the matchup, either.

“They didn’t play pretty poorly,” Spears, a former LSU and NFL defensive lineman, said on Friday when he met with local media. “They stunk. But I think a lot of the stuff is correctable. When you look at the film, you say, ‘Oh, my god. They gave up 43 points to Missouri State. That shouldn’t happen,’ but a lot of the stuff was self-inflicted.”

When the analysts gave their predictions at the end of the show, the lackluster defense was a huge factor in who they picked to win the lone game of Week 2 between two SEC teams.

Spears and Tebow went with South Carolina, but Finebaum went with Missouri — and received a huge “Z-O-U!” from the crowd.

Supervising editor is Pete Bland.