The Opening Kickoff:
With a seemingly inevitable takedown of visiting Arkansas in Friday’s regular-season finale, Mizzou coach Barry Odom will put an eight-win season into the books, with a chance to notch a ninth victory when the Tigers compete in a bowl game.
Some snazzy numbers warrant notice.
Including 2017’s late-season surge, Missouri has won 13 of its last 18 games and are 6-3 away from Faurot Field during this stretch. Moreover, they’ve gone 7-0 in November games in the last two seasons.
Does it translate into momentum?
“I think there’s a lot of momentum,” Missouri athletic director Jim Sterk said Monday on The Bernie Show.. “It shows where we’re going.”
Well, yes and no.
Yes, because winning is healthy and good in the mission to re-establish consistent success for the MU program. Yes, because winning should boost Mizzou’s ticket sales and revenue for 2019. Yes, because the winning and encouraging trends give Odom something positive to pitch when recruiting.
That said, if we parse the record and take a closer look, the momentum is more incremental that transformative.
Over the last two seasons Odom’s Tigers are 1-5 vs. teams ranked in the AP poll. That record is 1-8 if we include his first season, 2016.
When playing FBS teams that have winning records, MU is 2-10 over the last two seasons, and 4-17 in Odom’s three seasons.
In games against Power 5 teams Mizzou is 8-10 over the last two seasons and 10-17 during Odom’s three seasons.
Mizzou’s recent 38-17 mauling of No. 13 Florida was excellent. But even if we include Florida’s 4-2 conference record going into that game, Mizzou’s six SEC wins since last November were against opponents with a combined 11-24 record in SEC action at the time of kickoff. Assuming that the Tigers dispose of Arkansas, MU’s last seven conference victories would have been bagged against opponents with a combined 11-31 SEC mark.
Odom’s 7-0 November record during the last two seasons is terrific — as is his overall mark of 9-2 in November. But are we allowed to mention Odom’s 3-9 record in October games?
Despite the fast and upbeat late-season stretch runs in each of the last two years, the Tigers have never been ranked in the AP poll with Odom as head coach.
Listen, I’m not complaining.
Mizzou’s 13-5 stretch, though positive, is open to interpretation.
Saturday, Mizzou went into Neyland Stadium and ransacked Tennessee 50-17. It was a dominating, supremely confident performance by the Tigers over an improving SEC East rival that had just messed up Kentucky (24-7) on Nov. 10.
Missouri’s 33-point win was its largest — via point differential — in a conference road game since since a Big 12 backside-kicking (52-17) of Nebraska in Lincoln on Oct. 4, 2008.
Missouri is getting better. The Tigers have reached the point of handling inferior opponents with little cause for alarm. They’re obviously a more capable road team. But the Tigers have come up short in conflicts against SEC teams (South Carolina) that are similar to Mizzou in terms of quality and status… teams that are also beatable. For the progress to grow more meaningful, Mizzou has to win more of those games, and must knock off more ranked opponents.
None of this, of course, can be accomplished in the waning days of the 2018 season. But I want to emphasize that the Tigers could max out at nine wins — a level that this program attained only twice between 2011 and 2017. And keep in mind that the Tigers have won seven games, going on eight, against a schedule that’s been rated among the top 10 most difficult slates in FBS.
In fact, the advanced-metrics ratings systems are more positive about Missouri than the human voters:
It’s been a good season for Mizzou. Disappointing in some ways, yes. The stinky losses to South Carolina and Kentucky were just awful, and Mizzou should have two more wins. This could have been a better season. But for now, good will have to do.
All talk of momentum will be suspended at the start of the 2019 season because there’s considerable uncertainty going forward. Odom must deliver more impact in his recruiting efforts. (He’s getting there.) Senior quarterback Drew Lock has two games remaining in his MU career. Who’s next? That’s a huge question for the most substantial position on the team. The top wide receiver, Emanuel Hall, is a senior. Three starting offensive linemen are seniors. Based on the depth chart for the Tennessee game, six seniors were listed as starters on defense.
Odom’s dogged work has produced more favorable results. But having the SEC’s No. 2 quarterback in all-time passing yards starting every game for the last three-plus seasons was a helluva foundation for the coach to build on. But the Lock era is about to close. Now what? Truth is, Odom has a lot more work to do. And if anything the challenges ahead may prove to be more difficult.
MY TOP FOOTBALL HEROES, CFB WEEK 12
1. No. 11 UCF put on a great performance on Saturday night’s prime-time stage, pounding No. 24 Cincinnati and the Bearcats’ respected defense, 38-13. ESPN’s “College GameDay” was in Orlando on Saturday morning to shine glowing attention on a program that’s won 23 consecutive games. And the media glare came at the right time for the Knights, who are trying to strengthen their position for a possible spot in the four-team CFB Playoff. It’s still a long shot, but UCF is at least tracking well, ranked No. 8 in the new AP Top 25. QB McKenzie Milton is a fabulous player. The Knights have scored at least 30 points in each of their 23 consecutive victories.
UCF may not be a top-four team. But after the top five — Alabama, Clemson, Notre Dame, Michigan, Georgia — who’s better? Most observers would say Oklahoma, or Washington State. Maybe. Washington State has been strong in a diluted Pac-12 Conference, but the Cougars’ strength of record is 19th in the nation. (UCF is 10th in strength of record.) Oklahoma has a more impressive overall profile than UCF, but I’d like UCF’s chances in a matchup; OU doesn’t play defense. The obvious takeaway: UCF needs extreme chaos to crash the football final four, with teams ranked ahead of them falling like leaves in a windstorm.
2. The Citadel. Forget the final score, with Alabama winning 50-17. In the first half Citadel rushed the ball 32 times in its slick triple-option offense to work the clock, confuse and frustrate the hell out of the Alabama defense, and limit Bama’s offensive possessions. The score at the half was 10-10, and the deadlock was shocking. I wonder how many fans switched over to the SEC Network at the start of the second half to see how long The Citadel could stick with Bama? Well, in the second half adjustments were made and reality kicked in. Hence: Alabama 50-17.
That’s OK. The Citadel received a $500,000 pay day to play The Tide, and entered the game as a 53-point underdog. And The Citadel squad played the best team in the nation to a first-half draw, forcing Alabama coach Nick Saban into playing starting quarterback Tua Tagovailoa — playing on a sore knee — longer than he wanted to.
The FCS program earned admiration and respect. “It’s a great moment,” Citadel quarterback Brandon Rainey said. “I’m proud of this team. We’re not scared of anybody. I think we came out and played our butts off.”
3. Notre Dame all but took baseball bats to Syracuse at Yankee Stadium, forcefully ripping the Orange apart in a 36-3 beatdown. Give credit to the Fighting Irish; they keep rolling through the schedule and bowling over threatening opponents. Notre Dame has an excellent defense, but the a reanimated offense under QB Ian Book makes this a dangerous, all-around team. Syracuse QB Eric Dungey was knocked out of Saturday’s game with an early injury, but that didn’t impact the outcome — not with the Irish averaging nearly seven yards per play on offense. The Irish defense allowed only 3.2 yards per play and carried a shutout down to the final seconds before Syracuse got on the board in junk time. USC is the last obstacle in the way of Notre Dame’s undefeated regular season and an invitation to the CFB Playoff semifinals. And USC is a broken team.
4. Breakout star Gardner Minshew set a new Washington State single-game record for most passing touchdowns, hurling seven TD throws in the Cougars’ 69-28 obliteration of visiting Arizona. In addition, Minshew completed 43 of 55 passes for 473 yards, without an interception. In putting up a ridiculous number if points in the first half (55!) Minshew completed passes to 11 different receivers in the first two quarters. Wazzu moved up to No. 7 in the new AP poll, and can clinch the Pac-12 North title with a win over rival Washington on Friday night. At 10-1 overall, and 7-1 in the conference, No. 7 Washington State seemingly has the edge over the No. 16 Huskies (8-3, 6-2.) But with a win, Washington would win the division and eliminate Washington State from Playoff contention. Washington has won on its last two visits to Washington State, outscoring the Cougars 86-30 in the two blowouts. You think that the Pac 12 office is rooting (privately) for Washington State?
5. Let’s recognize a special coach who coached in his final game Saturday: William & Mary’s Jimmye Laycock, who had considerable success and tremendous influence during his 39 seasons at the Virginia-based FCS program. Laycock owns the third-longest head-coaching tenure at one school in Division I history. Not only did Laycock lead his alma mater to 24 winning seasons and 10 playoff berths, he schooled a number of future NFL head coaches who played or worked for him: Steelers coach Mike Tomlin, Falcons coach Dan Quinn, and Bills coach Sean McDermott. For Saturday’s Final Game, nearly 400 former W&M players showed up to pay their respects. Here’s a look at the final days.
6. Army’s football team deserves emphatic praise. It was a big deal on Sunday when The Black Knights surfaced at No. 23 in the new AP Top 25 poll. Army last appeared in the Top 25 late in the 1996 season en route to a 10-2 campaign. According to the Associated Press, Army has jumped into the Top 25 only two times from 1963 through 2017. (The 1985 season, and ‘96.) Army has put together its third consecutive winning season under its superb head coach Jeff Monken, who took over in 2014. The Black Knights will go into the annual Navy game with a chance to defeat the Midshipmen for a third straight time — and also clinch a second consecutive 10-win season. Army has won seven in a row since losing in overtime at Oklahoma on Sept. 22.
7. Texas (8-3, 6-2 Big 12) needs only a win at Kansas — easy enough right? — to secure a spot in the Big 12 conference championship game after Saturday’s methodical 24-10 win over Iowa State. I won’t waste your time (or mine) by running through the 5,000 scenarios in play. Let’s go with the shorthand: If Texas defeats Kansas this weekend, it will meet the winner of this week’s Oklahoma at West Virginia showdown in the conference title bout on Dec. 1. With a win at KU, Texas coach Tom Herman would be 9-3 in his second season, and potentially have a chance to bounce rival Oklahoma from Playoff contention, and have a shot at playing in the Sugar Bowl. So I don’t think the Longhorns will overlook Kansas.
8. Happiness for Mizzou offensive coordinator Derek Dooley, the former Tennessee head coach. He took the Tigers offense into his old place of employment and hung 484 total yards, 29 first downs, five offensive touchdowns, 227 yards rushing, and three Drew Lock TD passes on the Volunteers. And kudos are in order for Lock, who moved into second place on the SEC career passing rankings with 11,599 yards. Getting to the top spot is out of reach; with only two games (max) remaining, Lock needs 1,568 passing yards to move ahead of former Georgia QB Aaron Murray and into No. 1.
MY TOP FOOTBALL VILLAINS, CFB WEEK 12
1. The biggest villain? The proverbial hot seat. That evil chair has jaws. Several head coaches already got the boot including Bobby Petrino (Louisville), Mike MacIntyre (Colorado) and D.J. Durkin (Maryland.) Others coaches are squirming including Clay Helton (USC), Kliff Kingsbury (Texas Tech), Larry Fedora (North Carolina), Lovie Smith (Illinois). The Illini reached a new low Saturday, getting blasted at home by Iowa, 63-0 — the worst loss for the program since a 63-0 stomping by the University of Chicago in 1906. But the Illini would have to pay Smith $12 million to go away, so he probably will get another shot in 2019. And while irate USC fans pumped the volume on their disgust after Helton’s latest loss — to UCLA and Chip Kelly — the real culprit here is USC director of athletics Lynn Swann. Earlier this year Swann made a nonsensical decision to extend Helton through 2023 earlier this year. Did Helton have leverage? No. No other schools were pursuing him. And to make this even stranger, Swann’s feelings about Helton are a poorly kept secret: Swann, who didn’t hire Helton, doesn’t think Helton is a good coach. So what was the point of putting USC in a horrible position of having to pay Helton a massive buy-out to dump him? One other coaching question: How in the world does Kansas State try to ease the great (but fading) coach Bill Snyder out of his job? Or is this a lifetime appointment?
2. The Ohio State University. First of all, coach Urban Meyer looked like a highly distressed, physically pained man on the sideline during the Buckeyes’ close-call 52-51 overtime victory at Maryland. Meyer has been suffering from a cyst that’s pressing on his brain, and the condition has left the coach bending over, and grabbing his head, during games this season. It’s Meyer’s life, his career, and his call. But this can’t be good for him, so why does he put himself through the agony? Second, Ohio State’s defense is reeling, having been flogged for 535 yards and 51 points by an ordinary Maryland offense. Maryland running back Anthony McFarland’s 298 rushing yards in Saturday’s contest were the most against Ohio State since Michigan’s Tim Biakabutuka accumulated 313 back in 1995. McFarland averaged 14.2 yards per carry and romped for touchdown runs of 81 and 75 yards.
Ohio State has been burned for 20 plays of at least 40 yards this year — which equals the total of the past three seasons combined. Moreover, the Buckeyes have given up four plays of at least 80 yards this season. Until this season, they hadn’t allowed an 80-yard play — not one — since 2015. The Buckeyes defense has been pummeled for more than 500 yards by an opponent three times this season — and have up at least 400 yards in three other games. OSU opponents have scored at least four touchdowns from scrimmage in five games. If No. 4 Michigan can’t win this week’s game between the bitter rivals — even though it’s an Ohio State home game — then when? After seeing Ohio State shoved around by lesser teams, Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh and his players have no excuse to lose in Columbus.
3. West Virginia, for blowing a lead and losing on the road (45-41) to unranked Oklahoma State. While the Mountaineers are still in the chase for a place in the Big 12 title game, the loss at Stillwater terminated any chance of a spot in the CFB Playoff. West Virginia had moved up all the way to No. 7, but fell to No. 12 in this week’s AP Poll. And a win at Oklahoma State would have put WVU into the Big 12 championship game. West Virginia could still get to the conference title game but must beat visiting Oklahoma this week — and the Mountaineers haven’t defeated the Sooners since joining the Big 12.
4. Houston Cougars. It was a bad week for coach Major Applewhite, who made a fool of himself during a sideline confrontation with injured star defensive lineman Ed Oliver, who has missed several games with a knee injury. On a cold Thursday night, with Houston throttling visising Tulane, Applewhite ordered Oliver to remove a warm jacket that is supposed to be worn — only! — by players that were active for the game. What a childish rule. And the petty Applewhite initiated a beef with a much coveted player, Oliver, who was recruited by bigger and better and more prestigious programs…but signed with Houston as a gesture of loyalty to his hometown. But that wasn’t even the worst thing that happened to Houston. In the 48-17 win over Tulane, Houston quarterback D’Eriq King, a sensational playmaker, was lost for the season to a knee injury. This is a damaging blow to the Cougars. King’s dazzling work included 2,982 passing yards and with 36 touchdown throws — with 674 yards rushing, and 14 rushing touchdowns. Houston won’t have its offensive engine for a showdown with Memphis that will determine the AAC West title. Until now, the Cougars were the fourth-highest scoring team (47.8-point average) in FBS. But without King, how much will the offense slow down?
Thanks for reading …