So much has changed in four weeks.
Before the season, I thought Mizzou had a legitimate shot to challenge for the SEC East title. I did not think they'd win it (I picked South Carolina), but I thought the Tigers could be a factor.
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That is no longer true.
Missouri has lost to South Carolina and Georgia. The means, to win the East, not only would Missouri have to win out, but the Gamecocks and Bulldogs would have to lose three conference games. Each.
So, yeah, not happening (and we haven't even talked about Florida, which has already gone on the road and won two conference games, which, without looking, I'm going to guess that no other major conference team in the country has done).
But, looking at things another way, hardly anything has changed.
Before the season, I had the Alabama game as about a 95% loss for the Tigers. Nothing I've seen would change that (well, maybe I'd up it to 98%). I thought the South Carolina game was the second-toughest on the schedule, considering I picked the Gamecocks to win the East and Missouri had to play them on the road.
I picked Missouri to win the Georgia game, but a loss was never out of the question. The result didn't exactly slap anybody upside the head with shock.
The way I look at this season is the way I have always looked at this season. Success or failure will be determined by four games.
I say this assuming Missouri should beat Vandy, Kentucky and Syracuse at home. I say it feeling confident the Tigers will lose to the Crimson Tide.
Those results would put Missouri at 5-3 with four games undecided on the schedule. The first of those games comes Saturday at Central Florida.
It is a game many have viewed as a snake pit for the Tigers. You're playing a non-BCS team on the road in the biggest home game they'll have all season. It's a tough draw. It's not a game Missouri would likely schedule in just about any year. But caught in transition between the Big 12 and the SEC, the Tigers had to find someone, anyone who had an open date. The Golden Knights did and you can bet they weren't volunteering to come to Columbia just to be charitable.
Yes, this game is a potential pitfall. But, honestly, it's a game Missouri should win. IF the Tigers are the team they want to believe they are. If Mizzou can win this game and the three home games I've given them, bowl eligibility is assured. And, right now, that's the goal.
But lose this game and you put yourself in a tough position. It means you have to win at Florida, Tennessee or A&M simply to be bowl eligible. Is it doable? Sure. Is it easy? No. And breaking even at 6-6 isn't something Missouri football should define as a success at this point in time anyway.
Ultimately, though, it is that three-game November road swing that will determine this season. And, really, when the schedule came out, didn't we all know that?
The truth is, we all like to jump to conclusions every Sunday. Every win is another step to the top 25 and every loss is a reason to fire everybody with a hand in the program. It is that way everywhere.
But the reality is, this is a three-month season. And by November, we don't know if we're going to see the Missouri team that played the first three quarters against Georgia or the one that showed up for all four at South Carolina.
Those final three games will write the script on this season. The way I see it, the floor for this team is 4-and-8 (because, honestly, if you lose to Central Florida, you can't feel all that confident about just showing up and knocking off Vandy and Syracuse can you?) The ceiling? In an ideal world, if all goes well, if the quarterback is healthy, the defense dominates and on and on, the most optimistic among us could make a case for 9-and-3. I won't do that. The ceiling is more likely 8-and-4. You don't just go sweep three SEC games on the road in four weeks. Unless you're Alabama or LSU.
This Sunday, one of two things will happen to Missouri fans. They may be ecstatic with a win, convince themselves the offense is back and will paste Vandy and ride a wave of momentum from a two-game win streak into the Bama game. If that happens, most of those fans will have themselves convinced the Tigers can do the unthinkable and pull the upset. Of course, with a loss, there will be many fans saying there is no way this team wins another game, that even lowly Kentucky will shut out the Tigers and that the entire program is in shambles.
But we don't get to write the book on Sunday. All we get to write that day is Chapter Five of twelve. I think there's a good chance the Tigers will be 5-and-3 at the end of Chapter Eight. And what happens over the final four will ultimately be what we remember about Missouri football in 2012.
I know it's a long time to wait. I know it's far more fun to make authoritative statements on September 26th after Missouri has played two top ten teams. But it doesn't make much sense.
Gainesville. Knoxville. College Station. These are the sites of the games that will tell the tale of Missouri's season. And in that sense, very little has changed in the last four weeks.
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