After struggling with injuries in their first run through the vaunted SEC, the Missouri Tigers made a complete turnaround in 2013 and came within a game of winning the SEC Championship and possibly playing for the BCS National Championship. As the team got healthy, the Tigers got rolling and proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that they truly belong in the SEC. But their turnaround would likely not have been so profound if not for the incredible breakout season of defensive end Michael Sam.
It’s unlikely anyone foresaw the kind of season the senior defensive lineman would have in 2013 after posting just 3.5 sacks in nine starts as a junior in 2012. This season, Sam has taken the SEC by storm, leading the conference with 10.5 sacks and 18 tackles for loss on the year. He was named as a consensus All-American and received the Associated Press’ SEC Defensive Player of the Year honor while also being named as a finalist for the Bronko Nagurski Trophy and Rotary Lombardi Award (both ultimately went to Aaron Donald of the Pitt Panthers).
For Sam to break out like he did and stand at the top of a conference that prides itself on producing the best defensive players in the country while leading Missouri to a division title and an SEC Championship game appearance, it has truly been a remarkable year. The 6-foot-2, 255-pound machine of destruction has done himself a major service leading up the NFL Draft as well. Where he might have been a late round pick if he worked out well a year ago, he’s earned some long looks for NFL scouts as a first or second day pick this spring.
But Sam’s incredible senior season with Missouri is coming to a close with one final game in the AT&T Cotton Bowl against the Oklahoma State Cowboys. Will Sam put a cap on his dynamic breakout year with another explosive performance before taking his talents to the next level?