Barry Odom’s Missouri football team clinched Bowl eligibility for a second straight year with their sixth win, 33-28 over Vanderbilt Saturday at Faurot Field.
In each of Odom’s three seasons, a slow start in SEC play has doomed the team to having no chance to compete in the SEC Championship game. You know why? Because they play the harder part of their schedule early. In 2016, Mizzou started 0-5 in the conference, losing to #16 Georgia, at LSU in Ed Orgeron’s first game, #18 Florida, Kentucky and South Carolina before finally knocking off Vanderbilt in their tenth game of the year, and obviously their sixth SEC game. In 2017, they were 0-4 in the SEC (South Carolina, #15 Auburn, Kentucky, #4 Georgia) before rallying to win their LAST four, getting to .500 in the conference and earning a spot in the Texas Bowl. This year, of course, the Tigers were 0-4, with losses to #2 Georgia, South Carolina, #1 Alabama and #12 Kentucky before winning their last two against Florida and Vandy.
With Tennessee and Arkansas on the horizon, it’s not out of the realm of possibility that the Tigers can go 4-4 in the conference and 8-4 overall. Right now, there are nine SEC teams with better records than Missouri, and some of them are already spoken for in bowls. The league champion (probably Alabama) will be in the College Football Playoff. The second or third place team (third place if, like last year, there are two SEC teams in the playoff) will play in the Sugar Bowl, and the team after that will get a bid in the Citrus Bowl.
After that, there are eight bowl spots available for the rest of the league. There are currently twelve SEC teams with a chance at bowl eligibility, with Ole Miss on probation and Arkansas mathematically eliminated. If Mizzou could win their last two, they would probably finish seventh, eighth or ninth at 4-4 in the conference.
That would give the Tigers a pretty good game…either the Music City Bowl in Nashville on December 28 or the Outback Bowl in Tampa on January 1. The way things are looking, lets figure Georgia doesn’t get a spot in the playoff and winds up in the Sugar Bowl. Then LSU would get the Citrus Bowl berth. Next up would be the AutoZone Liberty Bowl in Memphis, which would be a perfect spot for Kentucky to play a Big 12 team. South Carolina would be a natural for the Belk Bowl in Charlotte against an ACC opponent, and Florida would fit in the Outback Bowl. That could put Mizzou in the Music City Bowl against an ACC or Big Ten opponent. Then Auburn, Texas A&M, Mississippi State and perhaps Tennessee (if they beat Mizzou or Vanderbilt to gain eligibility) would spread among the TaxSlayer Bowl, Texas Bowl, Birmingham Bowl and Independence Bowl.
Right now, ESPN projects the Tigers to play either Boston College or NC State in the Music City Bowl. CBS Sports has a Mizzou-B.C. matchup in Nashville. Sports Illustrated has them playing Oklahoma State in the Liberty Bowl, and SB Nation has the Tigers in the Outback Bowl against Michigan State.
Is this a reasonable year for Mizzou? I, probably like you, look at Gary Pinkel’s conference championship games in 2007, 2008, 2013 and 2014 and think that should be the norm. But when we look at Missouri’s history, is that realistic? I don’t think so. I believe this year is pretty much what Mizzou is, and that’s not a bad thing.
Since the advent of the Big 8 in 1960, they’ve had 33 winning records in 57 seasons. Of those 33 winning seasons, six have resulted in double-digit victories (five of those years under Pinkel). 21 of the 33 have been seven-or-eight-win years. Is it reasonable to expect a program to change its stripes after developing a personality over more than a half century?
If you look at the top twenty teams in college football and compare them to the top fifteen in 1968, it looks pretty much the same. Mizzou had a great year in 1968, finishing ninth. But of the top 20 that season, Ohio State, Penn State, Texas, Notre Dame, Georgia, Oklahoma, Michigan, Auburn, Alabama and LSU are in the top 20 this year. Among those that were in the 1968 Top 20 that you can reasonably expect to return were USC and Tennessee. Winning is as much a tradition as a fight song. And a Missouri program that’s never won a championship shouldn’t expect to be a regular contender.
At the end of the day, as frustrated as I get with Odom for not turning out products like Pinkel did, as a fan I need to be more self-aware. The program is what it is. If they go 7-5 or 8-4 and make a bowl game…especially a good bowl game…I’m going to be satisfied.