Missouri football: What should we expect this season?

There’s a lot to be excited about if you’re a Missouri football fan. A stacked recruiting class, a young and hungry head coach, and a quarterback ranked 15th by PFF would have most fan bases feeling like they’re on top of the world.

But Missouri fans know better, right?

We’ve been let down, led astray and downright disappointed enough times to build a thick layer of skepticism when looking at any Tiger team. Maybe it’s time to turn that skepticism into optimism. Maybe.

Let’s start with what we know for sure.

Missouri football has a bright future

Missouri Head Coach Eliah Drinkwitz walks on the field during warm ups before a game between Tennessee and Missouri at Neyland Stadium in Knoxville, Tenn. on Saturday, Oct. 3, 2020.
100320 Tenn Mo Jpg

Even if the upcoming season goes poorly for the Tigers, Missouri’s 2022 recruiting class is strong. Ranked 22nd in the nation by Rivals, head coach Eliah Drinkwitz is doing a good job convincing rising high school seniors to come to Columbia. But is this sustainable?

People will only want to come to Missouri if Drinkwitz backs up his bark with some bite. Qualifying for a bowl in his first season was a good start, but this team still has plenty of growing to do.

Missouri football ain’t no Bama

TUSCALOOSA, AL – OCTOBER 13: Drew Lock #3 of the Missouri Tigers reacts after being sacked in the fourth quarter of the game against the Alabama Crimson Tide at Bryant-Denny Stadium on October 13, 2018 in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. Alabama won 39-10. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

It may seem obvious, but when talking about expectations we need to look at the top of the food chain. This team, unless God intervenes, will not be better than Alabama for a while. They’ll probably struggle to beat Georgia as well.

That’s ok.

The Tigers are just 2 years removed from losing to Vanderbilt and Wyoming in the same season. They haven’t beaten Georgia since 2013, and most of those games have been blowouts. Heck, South Carolina has been an annual toss-up game.

This team is headed in the right direction though, they won’t be winning the SEC, or the SEC East for that matter. But they’re inching closer.

Progress you can be proud of

Oct 10, 2020; Columbia, Missouri, USA; Missouri Tigers quarterback Connor Bazelak (8) runs against LSU Tigers safety Maurice Hampton Jr. (14) during the first half at Faurot Field at Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

Missouri’s best season in the past 5 years was in 2018, when they finished 8-4 and lost to Oklahoma St in the Liberty Bowl. There were two games that year that, had things gone differently, could have seen the Tigers end the year as a 10 win team.

Please treat 2018 as an outlier.

Aside from that year, since 2014 the Tigers have either barely made a bowl game or missed bowl eligibility entirely. Last year was no exception, but the Tigers got some big monkeys off of their backs.

A statement win over LSU, finally breaking the Kentucky curse, and a close win at Columbia, SC all may prove to be turning points for this program.

While the Tigers suffered some tough losses last season, a full year of Connor Bazelak and a team that isn’t having to navigate a pandemic could feasibly put up 9 wins this year.

9 WINS??

Nov 21, 2020; Columbia, South Carolina, USA; Missouri Tigers quarterback Connor Bazelak (8) passes the ball against the South Carolina Gamecocks in the second quarter at Williams-Brice Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Blake-USA TODAY Sports

Yes. Let me spell it out.

With a relatively weak non-conference slate, a Kentucky team that Missouri finally figured out last year, and a Tennessee team led by former Tiger OC Josh Heupel (who somehow managed to ruin UCF), Missouri’s first six games are all winnable. Best-case scenario puts the Tigers at 6-0 heading into their game against Texas A&M.

That’s where any sort of streak stops. Texas A&M will not only challenge Alabama for the SEC this season, they’ll challenge for a CFP spot as well. Missouri will not beat Texas A&M.

So, 6-1.

But hey, after the Texas A&M game the Tigers get to play Vanderbilt, and it takes something truly awful to screw that up.

So, 7-1!

Georgia and Florida will both likely prove too much for Missouri, and that’s ok. These games will provide a great late season benchmark for this team’s future. Getting blown out by both isn’t the end of the world but it’s a sign that the team will still have a long way to go.

But if Missouri plays Georgia and Florida close, then maybe next season we can start talking about an SEC East title push.

Luckily, the Tigers run up against a South Carolina team that was abysmal last year and an Arkansas team that can’t seem to beat Missouri no matter the circumstances.

So, by my count, that’s a 9-3 record!

This is, admittedly, putting a lot of stock in Missouri’s first six games, but after years of skepticism maybe it’s ok to be optimistic.