A year ago, Gary Pinkel was in no mood for holiday cheer.

Missouri had gone a dispiriting 5-7 in its SEC debut season, the program's first losing record since 2005.

There has been no sophomore slump for the fifth-ranked Tigers, who surprised nearly everyone by advancing to the SEC championship game against No. 3 Auburn.

Missouri (11-1, 7-1 SEC) is a remarkable bounce-back story, at the least on par with Auburn (11-1, 7-1). No matter what happens in the SEC championship game on Saturday, the Tigers have shown they do indeed belong in the conference that's produced the last seven national champions.