NCAA Football

Does Mizzou Turnaround Create an Illusion of a Good Team?

Tennessee Missouri Football
Missouri quarterback Drew Lock (3) scrambles as Tennessee defensive lineman Kyle Phillips (5) defends during the first half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Nov. 11, 2017, in Columbia, Mo. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

The 2017 Mizzou football team, amazingly, is just one win away from bowl eligibility.

With their fourth straight win on Saturday, a 50-17 rout of Tennessee, the Tigers improved to 5-5 and probably moved head coach Barry Odom off of the hot seat, if he ever WAS on it.  The question I have is…how good are they?

I’m a big believer in the bottom line; a win is a win is a win.  BUT, the four straight wins for the Tigers have come against Idaho, which is set to head to the FCS next year, UConn, which is 17-42 in the last five years, Florida…which fired its coach the week before they faced MU, and Tennessee, which fired THEIR coach immediately after losing to the Tigers.  The remaining two games for Mizzou are against a Vanderbilt team that’s 4-6 overall but 0-6 in the SEC, and Arkansas, also with a coach on the hot seat because of a 4-6 record that includes a 1-5 mark in the conference.

For the first time in history, Mizzou has scored 45 points in each of four straight games.  But they’ve done it against the 59th, 77th, 89th and 123rd ranked scoring defenses.  Mizzou’s scoring defense ranks 98th in the country, tied with Arizona and just behind Old Dominion, Cincinnati, Memphis and Texas State.  While there is no question Mizzou has upped its game in the last month, what can we expect from them next season?

That provides us our intrigue for next season.  Can the defense improve?  The offense is tenth in the nation in yards per game and fifteenth in scoring.  Remarkably, just two years ago Mizzou ranked second from the bottom in the NCAA in scoring offense, and sixth in scoring defense.  Now the offense is great, and the defense needs improvement.  As Florida and Tennessee try to revive once great programs, can Odom maintain the trajectory of the last four weeks?

Larry Rountree has rushed for 395 yards during the four-game winning streak.  Ish Witter has emerged, improving each game and totaling 413.  Wide receiver J’Mon Moore has 27 catches for 373 yards, Emanuel Hall has 18 for 337, and Jonathan Johnson and Albert Okwuegbunam have turned in strong contributions.  Drew Lock has been terrific, and the offensive line has regained the form that it showed for most of 2016.

Mizzou hasn’t lost the turnover battle in the last four weeks.  They still commit penalties…with 6, 12, 7 and 7 during the streak.  The defense has allowed one offensive touchdown in each of the last three games.  Since allowing 53 points to Georgia as they fell to 1-5, the Tigers defense has allowed 14.75 points per game.

I’m completely conflicted about this team.  Before the season started, I said seven wins would be great, and they have a chance to win seven games and go to a bowl game.  That being said, this is two straight years of slow starts under Barry Odom, and the performance against quality competition has been woeful.

Mizzou fans shouldn’t expect to be happy with the team reaching the .500 mark with a fourth straight win in game ten.  The statewide questions about Odom’s job security were valid after the 1-5 start.  But he’ll have a legitimate complaint if he wins six or seven games and gets fired.  He will have done as much as or more than most of us expected before the season started.

I understand that teams can only play the teams that are on the schedule.  And Mizzou has done more than enough in the last four games for us to think they can beat those teams.

Here’s the problem as I see it; Mizzou might finish with six or seven wins, but what are they going to mean?  They’ll have beaten an FCS team, another team in Idaho that’s going to be an FCS team next year, another in UConn that, as was mentioned, has been bad for a long time, and two SEC programs that fired their coaches during the season.  That’s a dilemma.  Next year, Mizzou will play a young Memphis program that’s 8-1 this season, a 7-3 Wyoming, and Florida and Tennessee programs that are trying to improve their lot in football.

Hopefully this improvement by Odom’s Tigers isn’t a mirage.  My hope is that Mizzou is doing to bad teams what good teams do to bad teams.  Against good teams this year. MU lost by scores of 51-14 to Auburn and 53-28 to Georgia.  They’ll likely play in a bowl game and might even win eight games this season.

But, does that mean they’re good?