ATHENS, GA--I'm moving the bar.
All week, I had said that the goal for Missouri was simply to win one of the next three. The gauntlet that was the three-week stretch of Georgia, Florida and at South Carolina looked like a three-game losing streak before the season.
But not now. Not after a 41-26 win at Georgia. It was Mizzou's first road win over a top ten team in 32 years. I think it's fair to have the discussion whether it was Mizzou's biggest win in even longer than that.
All due respect to the 2007 Armageddon at Arrowhead win. It was mammoth before Gary Pinkel used that descriptor in every press conference. There was a ton at stake in that game...more than in this one.
But from a perception standpoint, it's hard to get any bigger than what Missouri did in Athens on Saturday.
This team has been beaten to a pulp over the last 12 months. They did a lot of it to themselves with a 5-and-7 regular season. No question. But the ridiculousness of the "Mizzou can never compete in this league, it should run back to the Big 12 with its tail between Truman's legs" outcry from national media had put this program at a low it hadn't seen in a long, long time. Yes, the claims were ridiculous, but you know what? Missouri needed to answer them.
That answer came on Saturday in the form of a 41-26 win over seventh-ranked Georgia. Sure the Bulldogs were beat up, missing five critical skill position players. But you want to talk injuries? Missouri played the last ten minutes of this one without its starting quarterback and the last two-and-a-half quarters without its best defensive player, leaving the secondary playing a true freshman and a redshirt freshman against one of the country's hottest quarterbacks.
After the game, a couple of Tigers said they were sure there would still be skeptics.
"People are gonna keep saying stuff every week," Markus Golden said. "For the rest of the year, they're gonna find more and more stuff to say. So you can't even listen to what people say. Me, myself, I don't listen to what people say. I just go out and work harder."
Gone is the claim that Missouri hasn't played anybody. In its place, will there be a new "yeah, but..."? Maybe, but it doesn't matter.
Missouri is 6-and-0. It will be ranked, most likely, in the top 15 in the nation's polls next week. The Tigers control their own destiny in the SEC East race.
So I'm moving the bar. The Tigers came into this season with a major question: "Can they win enough to save their coach's job?" That question's been answered. I've got a new one: How far can this team go?
I don't know. Three years ago, I watched Missouri beat No. 1 Oklahoma and the sky was the limit. Tiger fans were dreaming of a national championship. Nebraska thumped Missouri 31-17 the next week when Roy Helu ran for about 4,134 yards (my math may be fuzzy) in the first quarter. The Tigers lost again the next week to Texas Tech.
It ain't easy. Florida comes to Columbia next week. South Carolina the week after. And both will face Missouri, in all likelihood, with its backup quarterback.
But you know what? The bar has been raised. The goal is now simple: Win 'em all. That's the goal until it's not possible anymore. The Tigers are 2-and-0, up at least a game on everyone else in the division. They haven't played a home game in the league. Every possibility (yes, EVERY one) is alive with six weeks to go.
One win in three weeks isn't good enough anymore. Not after Saturday. Before the season, most of us deemed eight wins as the benchmark for a successful campaign. Missouri is almost certain to get there. And if it doesn't get much further, it's still a successful season. But so much more is now out there. Missouri just won the most unwinnable game on its schedule. If it can win that one, which ones can't it win?
The bar has moved. Now we'll find out if Missouri can reach the new one.
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