If Beating Idaho and UConn Represents Mizzou Football Progress, It’s Time For a Change

I was looking at ESPN’s current Football Power Index ratings (FPI) and had to search for Mizzou.

Had to scroll down a bit.

Still scrolling …

Scrolling …

Oh. There they are.

Hello, Tigers.

We can make a positive ID of Mizzou, spotted at No.  78 on a list of 130 FBS teams.

Truthfully, I thought MU would be lower than that. So I guess I should be … thankful? … that the Tigers are 78 instead of hanging out with Illinois at No. 105.

(Great major-college football around these parts, eh?)

At No. 78 in the FPI, Mizzou is beneath eight American Athletic conference teams, four Mountain West teams, two from the MAC, one from the Sun Belt, and one from C-USA.

It’s a little sad to watch the gradual submersion of the Mizzou program. Using FPI, here’s where the Tigers came in each of the previous four seasons:

No. 9 in 2013 …. and SEC East champs.

No. 26 in 2014 … and a second consecutive SEC East title.

No. 58 in 2015 … in Gary Pinkel’s troubling final season as head coach.

No. 64 in 2016 … in Barry Odom’s first season as HC.

And now, No. 78 and dropping. It isn’t just the overall FPI accounting. If you look at ESPN’s latest efficiency ratings, the Tigers are 34th in offense (pretty good), 120th in special teams (grimace), and 128th in defense. Yep, 128th out of 130.

MU’s overall efficiency rating is No. 111. Splat.

In Odom’s second season, Mizzou has gotten worse instead of improving. This has been a terrible football team, pretty much in every way, at least until the erratic offense went on a two-game streak of competence by by averaging 31 points in consecutive losses at Kentucky and Georgia. For the first time in his Missouri career, quarterback Drew Lock played well in SEC road games. Duly noted and appreciated.

Odom’s job security is a matter of considerable speculation, and AD Jim Sterk will make a determination after the season. Sports media have been playing a little parlor game, attempting to gauge how many wins are necessary to lift Odom to higher and safer ground.

Well, if Odom beats visiting Idaho this Saturday, and if coach can follow up on that triumph to take his squad to Connecticut and get a road win, that makes three wins on the season, and…

Stop it.

No more counting.

Here’s what counts: Mizzou’s record in the SEC.

Idaho ain’t in the SEC. Idaho will be sliding down to the FCS level next season. UConn resides in the American, which is arguably the best of the non-Power 5 conferences. But the Huskies are No. 117 in this week’s FPI … two spots  behind  Idaho.

So this is what it’s come to?

Really?

If Odom can somehow find a way to steer his team past mighty Idaho, and go on the road to conquer UConn … hey, the coach may have a chance to bag another win or two and show enough progress to stay in charge for a third season.

Does this possibility excite anyone?

I really don’t care that in this hypothetical scenario Mizzou would have victories over Missouri State, Idaho and Connecticut. You can count them if you’d like, but I’ll pass because if Mizzou remains in the SEC then Mizzou and the fans need to have higher standards … not to mention pride.

Show Me the victories over SEC rivals and other Power 5 teams.

That’s where the progress is measured. Against Big Boy programs.

Not by taking your cleats and mashing beetles on the ground and thinking it actually means anything.

Check that; here’s what it means: the standards for Mizzou football are no longer high, or moderate, or relatively low. When viewing these next two games against Idaho and UConnn as some marvelous opportunity to begin Coach Odom’s infamous “Turnaround,” then MU’s standards are subterranean.

Instead of looking for spots where Mizzou can scrounge for wins against nowhere teams — it’s called “Dumpster Diving” — let’s talk about the only win-loss math that’s relevant.

At the halfway marker of his second season  Odom is 2-12 against Power-5 teams. Only two of the defeats landed within a one-score margin. In the other 10 losses against P-5 opponents, Mizzou was outscored by an average of 23.8 points.

Missouri is in the SEC, and that’s the most meaningful basis for making a judgment call.

If we’re afraid to hold Mizzou football accountable for its sorry performance in a prestigious conference that annually pumps a huge amount of revenue into the university’s bank, then maybe the Tigers can join the American and cultivate a rivalry with Memphis or Cincinnati.

But as long as the Tigers are collecting checks from the SEC …

Under Coach Odom, Missouri is 2-10 in SEC conflicts, having won fewer games than anyone in the 14-team league since the start of last season. And a Mizzou defense that was once the pride of the program has been savaged for an average of 38 points in these last 12 SEC games. Over the last two seasons, Mizzou has allowed 510 yards per game in conference play, the worst trampling of an SEC defense over that time.

If I break my rule and include all games over the last two seasons, the MU defense has given up 486 yards per contest ; only two other Power-5 defenses are more feeble. Considering that defense is supposed to be Odom’s area of expertise, and he’s had time to improve his defense, it is more than fair to ask: If defense is the coach’s specialty, then why does Mizzou continue to slide in reverse, getting hit up for 31.5 points per game in Odom’s year, and an average of 42.2 points in his season?

Once Mizzou gets through this Idaho-Connecticut murderer’s row, they’ll close with for consecutive SEC games: two at home vs. Florida and Tennessee then on the road at Vanderbilt and Arkansas. Florida is OK, but a dullard on offense. But none of the upcoming four SEC opponents are special, or intimidating. They all have problems. Tennessee coach Butch Jones is a fired man walking. Arkansas coach Bret Bielema may be joining Jones.

Over the final four league games, how many SEC wins are required for Mizzou to claim true progress?

Is it two?

To that I would say: so what?

Getting two victories in the remaining SEC games would leave Mizzou with a 4-12 mark in the conference in Odom’s two seasons. The crowds are down and staying away in larger numbers. Go ahead and try to generate enthusiasm and ticket sales and by marketing two consecutive 2-6 SEC seasons. And a 2-6 SEC record for 2017 is the best-case scenario, and probably delusional.

I think very highly of Sterk. He’s done a remarkable job of raising money. He raised the Mizzou basketball program with the hiring of Cuonzo Martin. But unless Mr. Sterk wants to go into 2018 with marketing Mizzou football as the SEC’s Official Doormat … then maybe he should raise hell and raise standards and give MU football the reset the program desperately needs.

Beat Idaho.

Thanks for reading …

–Bernie

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