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November 14, 2012

Powered Up: It's not that bad

I want to start by telling you I'm not trying to convince you this has been a great season for Missouri. Heck, I won't even try to convince you it's been a good one. I'm not an idiot.

However, I am going to try to convince you it hasn't been as bad as you think.

Missouri is 5-and-5, the exact same record it had through ten games last year (in a league most would concede wasn't as good as the SEC is this year). The Tigers are favored in one game and will be underdogs in the other, meaning if form holds, they will finish 6-and-6.

Now, 6-and-6 is a step back. No doubt. But not a major one. Especially when you consider the extenuating circumstances around it.

Yes, it is the staff's job to recruit well enough to survive injuries. Obviously, they didn't do that quite well enough at quarterback (well, they might have, but Tyler Gabbert chose to take his ball and go to Central Florida rather than stick around and either fight for a job or wait for James Franklin to get hurt before he played). This isn't a shot at Corbin Berkstresser or Maty Mauk. I'm not writing either one of them off because they have a combined seven years of eligibility remaining. But THIS YEAR, neither one was ready to step in for an injured Franklin and lead Missouri to wins on a consistent basis. On the offensive line, the sheer number of injuries has been so great that I don't know if you can say Missouri didn't have enough depth. Nobody suffers this many injuries at one position.

The injuries have been a factor. And I'd argue, they were the major factor in the one game that is tainting fans' view of this Missouri season.

If James Franklin stays healthy, he beats James Franklin. In two drives against Vanderbilt, Franklin twice drove Missouri inside Vandy territory. Both resulted in field goals, but the Tigers were playing well. Missouri had 123 yards on 18 plays in Franklin's two drives. The Tigers gained 272 yards in 57 plays after he went out (85 of them came on one pass). They had just two drives that covered more than 23 yards the rest of the way.

Again, if Franklin finishes that game, I'm convinced Missouri wins. If that happens, the Tigers are already bowl bound, sitting 6-and-4 with Syracuse coming to town and just one game under .500 in the mighty SEC heading into the finale at Texas A&M. That doesn't sound like a disastrous season to me.

I get that you can't just pretend the Vandy loss didn't happen. It did and it changes the view of the year. But Vandy isn't exactly the terrible team you've gotten used to. The Commodores are favored to finish 8-and-4. They're not a powerhouse, but they're not a doormat either.

Again, my point isn't to convince you 6-and-6 is good. Missouri hasn't won fewer than eight games since 2005. But teams suffer steps back all the time. The Tigers still have an outside shot at winning eight this year. If they don't, though, here is the list of teams they'll join that have had at least one season of seven wins or fewer in the last six seasons: Alabama, Ohio State, Florida, Virginia Tech, Texas, Wisconsin. It's a who's who of college football. In fact, here is the entire list of teams who have won eight games or more every year over that same span, including this year: Boise State, LSU, Oregon. That's it. Oklahoma and USC would join that list with one more win, TCU needs two. In other words, it's really not easy to win eight every single season.

So, sure, it's been a step back (barring two wins to end the regular season and a bowl victory). But it's been a step back, not a big leap. Outside of Vandy, every team that has beaten the Tigers is in the top nine of the BCS standings (so is Texas A&M, so that stat won't change with a loss in College Station). They're in the toughest league in America and they're playing at far less than full strength.

I understand college football, and sports in general, is a what-did-you-do-for-me-last-week business. But a little perspective never killed anybody. If the Tigers lose their last two and finish with a losing record next season, I'm willing to have some discussions about the future of the program and whether they can compete in the SEC. But I'm not willing to do it based on 83% of one season that hasn't been nearly as bad as a lot of people seem to think.

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