OLUMBIA --- These are no longer special times for our sports teams. They're now officially surreal.
We've entered the Twilight Sports Zone.
Instead of our host being Rod Serling, let's call him Rod Smith.
Is it a great time to be a Tiger, or what?
And a Cardinal.
And a Chief.
And a Missourian.
If this is a dream, please don't wake us.
This dream-come-true sports year added another chapter Saturday, as the No. 14 Missouri Tigers dismantled the No. 22 Florida Gators 36-17 before a sellout crowd of 67,124 frenzied fans at Faurot Field.
The Tigers didn't just beat the Gators, this was a beatdown.
"I was really proud of our players, the way they competed," Missouri coach Gary Pinel said. "It's a great team, they have a great bond, so this really doesn't surprise me ... I saw this back in August.
"What I'm most excited about is that they're so driven, they play so hard and they compete so well. When you have guys like that who bring it every single day in practice and every single Saturday, you have a chance to be pretty good."
Pretty good? Let's breakdown this beatdown, as MU beat a ranked opponent in consecutive weeks for the first time in 41 years.
Richard Nixon hadn't even resigned yet. Gasoline was 36 cents a gallon. I still had hair.
Long, long ago.
The Tigers (7-0, 3-0 SEC) rolled up 500 yards of total offense against the No. 4 defense in the nation --- and those 500 yards are the most a Florida defense has allowed in six years.
It also snapped Florida's 13-game streak of allowing 20 or less points to an SEC opponent.
"I don't have an answer to how that happened, because they have a really good defense," Pinkel said with a big smile. "But we've got a lot of playmakers."
And the Tigers did it with redshirt freshman quarterback Maty Mauk making his first start for the injured James Franklin.
"It's a stepping stone to where we want to be," Mauk said, "and for everybody out there to have the confidence in me to know we were going to get the job done. It means a lot to me."
Through six games, the Gators (4-3, 3-2) had allowed only one play of 40 or more yards this season. Not surprisingly, that led the nation entering Saturday.
The Tigers doubled that total in one play, as Mauk connected with L'Damian Washington on a 41-yard gain (the Tigers would later have plays of 50 and 52 yards.)
On the next play --- and just 22 seconds into the game --- Mauk tossed a 20-yard touchdown strike to Bud Sasser.
Before you could say ... Some Florida Gator guy actually invented Gatorade? I guess that makes sense. .... it was 7-0.
"That wasn't a bad start, was it?" Pinkel said of Mauk. "Give him a football and he's going to make some things happen. If you looked at him in high school, that's what he did.
"He's a playmaker, he's a winner."
Mauk finished 18-of-36 for 295 yards and also ran for a touchdown.
"Obviously, the people around him have to play well and I think they did," Pinkel said. "But it's really nice to see your back-up quarterback come in and play at this kind of level."
Was Mauk nervous about his first start? Against the mighty Florida Gators, no less? One word.
"The main thing for me was blocking all that stuff out, people saying a freshman couldn't do it," said Mauk, who grew up in football nirvana, Canton, Ohio. "I just wanted to be me and help us do what we do, run the football, throw the football and score points.
"James is still the man, I'm just playing right now."
Among MU's other offensive heroes, Henry Josey rushed for 136 yards and a touchdown, and Andrew Baggett tied a school record by kicking five field goals, ranging from 19 to 43 yards.
"It wasn't just one or two guys who had a big play or two," Pinkel said, "it was players all over the field. Everybody jumped in and made plays."
The Tigers --- who now have a two-game lead in the SEC East --- took the early lead and never gave it up. They led 10-3 after one quarter, 13-3 at the half and 23-17 after three quarters.
Even though it was just a six-point game entering the fourth, it didn't seem that close. Because to be fair, the Gators are as offensively challenged as a blind guy facing Adam Wainwright.
Or Michael Wacha. Or the pitcher of your choice.
Of the 120 FBS schools, Florida was No. 93 in total offense. At the same time, MU was ranked No. 83 in total defense, so you might have thought this would have been a wash.
Florida's 60 plays produced 151 total yards, giving the Tigers --- who host South Carolina for Homecoming at 6 p.m. next Saturday --- a hard-to-believe 500-151 edge in total yards. One of Florida's touchdowns was a 105-yard kickoff return to start the second half.
The Tigers had an interception (Aarion Penton), their FBS-leading 14th of the season, and they forced a turnover for the 37th straight game, the longest active streak in the nation. Michael Sam had three more sacks Saturday (the team had six), pushing his SEC-leading total to nine.
"We played great, great defense," Pinkel said. "It all starts up front ... we're playing at an all-time high level and they create a lot of problems."
At the same time, coaches always seem to find problems.
This win should vault Missouri into the Top 10 in not only both polls, but also in the first BCS rankings that will be released Sunday.
There seems to be even more buzz about these Tigers than the 2007 team, when Missouri climbed to No. 1 in the polls.
"Are you disciplined enough and mentally-tough enough to handle all the sunshine that's going to be thrown your way?" Pinkel said. "What do you want to be, are you happy with 7-0 or do you want to be great?
"We'll get with our teams leaders on Sunday and start discussing that."
So, there's that. What a nice problem to have.
The Cardinals are in the World Series.
The Chiefs are one of two unbeaten teams in the NFL.
The Blues are 5-1-1, but hockey in October doesn't really count. Or at least it shouldn't.
And the Rams seem to be getting better but, well, they're still the Rams.
You can't have everything.
But it sure feels like we already do.