There was a time the goal for this Missouri football team was a bowl game. That time, for the record, was about four weeks ago. Then Purdue and Auburn happened. Mathematically, that’s still the goal. Until a team has seven losses, said team will talk about the goal of getting to a bowl game.
But, as the kids say, let’s keep it real here. While a bowl game for these Tigers remains mathematically possible, you've really got to stretch your imagination to see it happening. The goalposts have moved.
Barry Odom moved them himself when he emphatically told everyone after the loss to Auburn, “This is a turnaround…That’s the narrative.”
Odom continued that storyline this week when he compared Missouri’s football program to running a marathon.
“A lot of people drop out,” he said. “They realize that they’ve done a lot of work, they’ve gotten to that point and you can see the finish line. Now you’ve got to go take it. That’s a little bit where we’re at. And it’s hard. Nobody said it was going to be easy.”
You can argue whether Odom took over a program that was starting a 26-mile race or if he started a few miles down the road and has moved it back to the starting line in the last two years. There are reasonable points to be made on both sides of that discussion. What you cannot argue is that Mizzou now has many miles to make up to catch the rest of the Southeastern Conference.
There’s really no doubt that Missouri is going to need some endurance going forward. Quick fixes aren’t in sight. The rest of this season is now about how much ground the Tigers can cover on the way to the finish line…which most definitely isn’t arriving before the end of the 2017 season.
The Tigers took a step—probably a few steps—last Saturday night. But let’s be clear about one thing: A close loss to Kentucky can’t be deemed a victory of any sort, moral or otherwise. Are there reasons to be encouraged after last weekend? Sure. But the stark reality is that Missouri sits 1-and-4 with the one coming against a middle-of-the-road (or worse) team in a lower division of college football.
So where do we set these goalposts that have been picked up and are looking for a new resting place?
Let’s start with where we don’t set them. We don’t set them near a win over Georgia this weekend. That’s unlikely. So while Missouri is currently 1-and-4, it is extremely likely that will be 1-and-5 two days from now. And at that point, we can really start talking about what needs to happen.
First of all, Missouri has to beat Idaho. Then it has to beat Connecticut. If those two things don’t happen, Missouri isn’t running in the marathon anymore. If the Tigers lose either of those games, they fell down and are too far behind to bother getting up.
But after that—starting on November 4th—that's when we really start to assess the direction in which things are headed. Missouri’s November will feature four SEC games—three against division opponents—in the span of 20 days. The Tigers get Florida and Tennessee at home before finishing the season on the road against Vanderbilt and Arkansas.
Those four games ultimately will determine the fate of this season. Anything from 3-9 to 7-5 should still be in play.
The Gators will be favored without question. They will represent the most difficult test in the final third of the season. They’re a team that doesn’t seem to score many style points, but always seems to find a way to win.
But then the Tigers get Tennessee, which is hardly setting the world on fire and has a fanbase begging for a new coach. Then comes Vanderbilt, which built early season momentum by beating a Kansas State team which suddenly looks underwhelming and has since lost three straight games by a score of 142-38. Then it’s Arkansas, whose most impressive win this year is over Florida A&M, has been outscored 126-72 against Power Five opposition and still has games against Auburn, Alabama, LSU and Mississippi State to go before the finale against the Tigers.
So what’s the new version of success for these Tigers? A split in the final four. With that, Missouri would likely finish with a winning record in its final seven games. It would notch a pair of conference wins. It would offer at least some signs of hope. It would not mark any sort of victory. It would not be the finish line. But at least it would keep them in the race.