On Nov. 24, 2012, the misery finally ended.

At last, Missouri's inaugural season in the SEC was over, concluding with a 59-29 blowout loss at the hands of Texas A&M. The Tigers' jump to college football's most prominent conference had been a dismal one as they won only two SEC games, both against teams who fired their coaches at season's end.

To make matters worse, the Aggies, Missouri's moving partner and former Big 12 foe, were busy reeling off a magical 11-win season that produced the first freshman Heisman Trophy winner ever and a victory over the eventual national champion.

Gary Pinkel's squad wasn't going to a bowl for the first time since 2004.

Fast forward almost a year later, and how things have changed.

The Tigers have already surpassed their 2012 win total and currently sit atop the SEC East at 7-1. With victories over powerhouses Georgia and Florida, Missouri is in the BCS top 10 for the first time in three years.

How things have changed.

"The way we worked in the offseason and coming in through fall ball, I knew this team was something special," redshirt freshman quarterback Maty Mauk told media members Monday. "It is just like what ... all the seniors said to coach. They wanted to change our name. They want to put us in the national championship, and not just going to a bowl game."

For Mauk, this season wasn't supposed to be of any relevance as the Kenton, Ohio, native was in line to back up senior signal caller James Franklin. A separated shoulder Franklin suffered in the Georgia game ended all of that, however, as Mauk was pressed into the starting role for the Tigers' last two contests.

The former Parade Magazine All-American has performed well, throwing for 544 yards and two touchdowns in Missouri's win over the Gators and double overtime loss to South Carolina. Mauk is scheduled to start Saturday versus Tennessee as well.

"Maty Mauk's a winner," said UT head coach Butch Jones, who recruited Mauk while at Cincinnati. "He's the son of a football coach, so he's a gym rat. He grew up with a football in his hand since the day he was born. I'd said he's a winner, and he's a playmaker."

With Mauk now under center, much has been asked of Missouri's dynamic and explosive receiving corps, specifically seniors L'Damian Washington and Marcus Lucas as well as sophomore Dorial Green-Beckham. All three are 6-foot-4 or taller and have wreaked havoc on opposing defensive backs all season, ranking in the SEC's top 15 in both receptions and receiving yards. In addition, Washington is tied for second in the conference with eight touchdowns.

"It's another group that's very talented – have a lot of receptions, a lot of touchdowns," UT defensive backs coach Willie Martinez said. "They spread you out and create issues as far as space."

With a young quarterback playing well above his years, a highly-touted set of receivers and even a backfield that have the Tigers' at second in the SEC in rushing yards per game, what else is missing?

Oh yeah, the defense.

"The defense for them starts up front," UT offensive coordinator Mike Bajakian said. "They have a very, very good defensive front and ... their defensive ends on both sides are two deep.

"They do a good job of putting those front four in a position to get 1-on-1 matchups and to beat their guys 1-on-1."

Missouri's 25 sacks lead the conference with almost half of those coming from defensive lineman Michael Sam. The former second-team Freshman All-American has 10 quarterback takedowns on the year, good for tied for first nationally.

"He is a great player," Volunteer offensive tackle Ja'Wuan James said. "I thought he was last year. At SEC media day I said that I thought he was one of the most underrated people in the SEC. He is a great player with a great motor ... He seems like he knows the game too."

Sam and the entire defensive line's success has translated into a productive secondary as Pinkel's squad is atop the SEC leaderboard in interceptions with 15.

"They play a lot of zone coverage behind it," Bajakian said. "They're not a heavy pressure team, but they're very effective at what they do.

"They're relatively simple schematically, and they execute very, very well."