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      Loeffler's Link - The price of poker is going up


      Okay, enough of that.

      As expected --- and as they should be --- the Missouri Tigers are 4-0 after beating up on four teams who are currently a combined 9-10, including an FCS school. That would be Division I-AA to you and me.

      None of those nine wins were noteworthy, by the way, let alone eye-openers.

      But the Tigers did what they had to do.

      "The non-conference schedule is over and we are starting league play," Missouri coach Gary Pinkel said. "We are excited about that opportunity and preparing like we do every Monday with our staff."

      Said offensive lineman Max Copeland: "Phase One is complete, conquering our non-conference schedule, and we've done that. Now, it's Phase Two, and it's time to crank it up to 11."

      That would be on a scale to 10. Indeed, the price of poker is going up --- way up.

      The next five weeks the Tigers will enter the SEC gauntlet, starting with Vanderbilt (3-2, 0-2 SEC) at 6:30 p.m. Saturday in Nashville, Tenn. From there, the Tigers play at Georgia, before hosting a terrific three-game homestand against Florida, South Carolina and Tennessee.

      There's a fine line between terrific and horrific.

      "They are all big tests," Pinkel said, "and this is the next big test. The next one is bigger and bigger. I think we will see, overall, from our non-conference schedule to our conference schedule that it will be tougher, there's no question.

      "The competition is tougher and more competitive, and that's good."

      Now, let's hear from (and about) James Franklin --- starting with James Franklin No. 1, MU's senior quarterback, who's completed 68 percent of his passes for 1,129 and nine touchdowns, while rushing for 215 yards and two scores.

      "This is just like every other game," Franklin said. "We are going to prepare the best we can for any opponent we face. We aren't going to let it get to our heads and psych us out, or anything like that."

      Now, about James Franklin No. 2 --- the head coach of the Commodores. Yes, a James Franklin will definitely be a winner Saturday night.

      Vanderbilt has won 10 of its last 12 games --- finishing last year with a seven-game winning streak --- with the losses this year coming at home to Ole Miss (39-35) and at South Carolina (35-25).

      The Commodores beat the Tigers 19-15 last year in Columbia.

      "Coach Franklin has done a great job with that football program; he is really a heck of a coach," Pinkel said. "They are a really disciplined football team ... and on offense, their quarterback is very talented."

      Austyn Carta-Samuels, a 6-1 senior transfer from Wyoming has thrown for 1,223 yards and eight scores this season, while rushing for four touchdowns.

      "He runs around and makes plays ... he extends the play and does some great things."

      But will MU's 4-0 start against lesser teams be enough to prepare them for the weeks ahead? We'll see.

      Senior cornerback E.J. Gaines is convinced.

      "Definitely," Gaines said. "I think it proves we can win within the conference and also be successful on the road. Winning on the road is something great football teams have to do, and everybody obviously has to play away games.

      "Starting off with a road conference game is going to be pretty exciting."