Well, well, the Missouri Tigers are 5-0! I will admit it is quite fun writing these columns when we are undefeated. I appreciate all the feedback, as well. As the season goes on, we are learning more and more about our own team as well as the college football world as a whole. With that in mind, here are this week's thoughts...
1. 5-0! I feel the best I have since 2010. Wow, perhaps this is just the optimism taking hold of me, but I really think this squad has the makings of one of the better teams we have seen in the Pinkel era. 2010 was the 10-2 squad that had a 14 point loss at Nebraska and a 7 point less at Texas Tech, and this season feels about like that season. Yeah, we might drop a game at Georgia (kind of like Nebraska that year) and something tells me we get bit somewhere we shouldn't (like at TX Tech that year), but overall I think this team will be competitive in every game and will win the majority of that's on the schedule -- and even if we go just 4-3, that would put us right where I predicted to start the year -- 9-3.
2. Georgia's on my mind. After four games, we thought we were pretty good, but really hadn't played someone of enough quality to prove it, not only to others but to ourselves. Well, that changed Saturday. Vanderbilt isn't the best team in the world, but they are certainly improving with a head coach some are talking about taking the job at Southern Cal, for heaven's sake. And they beat us last year. And while I hadn't been overwhelmed with any of their games, the game was a virtual Pick Em in Las Vegas. However, I felt confident going into it (I had it at 38-21) and with good reason -- we destroyed them from start to finish. Not only is Franklin playing very well, but we have a stable of playmakers at both RB and WR which makes us very, very dangerous and hard to defend. We could and probably should have scored at least 58 yesterday, which is saying something. And while we probably still give up too many points (who doesn't, these days, in college football?), it doesn't feel fluky either -- not saying we will beat everyone like that, but I feel like we're talented enough to beat anyone on our schedule and that includes next week against Georgia. Georgia, who had a shaky half against North Texas, could have easily lost yesterday at an improving but not-that-great Tennessee squad, They are certainly a great team but nothing tells me they are unbeatable. Remember, we were right with them into the 4th quarter last year and I feel we have more weapons this year.
What I like about next week's game is that it is in the morning, t we have literally nothing to lose (all the pressure is on Georgia), and the fact we're right on the edge of the rankings (25th and 26th) and so folks are curious about us but not convinced. So, if we win, we could really shoot up in the rankings -- if we lose, as long as it is narrow, we are unlikely to suffer much as a result. It's simply an "opportunity game" where we can have fun watching and not have to be "worried" about what happens if we lose, like we were with the first 5 games of the season. I like that mindset and I think we'll be in the game. I'm not saying we win, but I am saying it's quite possible.
3. I'm very happy for Coach Pinkel. In the modern world of college football, one season can hurt you badly and certainly last year had and still has people speculating about and doubting Gary Pinkel. Count me among them. I too had doubts about whether perhaps we were nearing the end of the road and shared others' concerns about recruiting and such. Throw in the personal stuff, one couldn't help but wondering if it was a good fit anymore. Now, some of those concerns are still there and haven't gone away (but perhaps recruiting will shift if we keep it up?), but I'm very happy for Coach Pinkel. First, it shows that last year's injury issues were very real and had even more of an impact than we thought, probably costing us at least 2 (Syracuse and Vandy) wins if not three. Second, it shows Pinkel can still get the team to respond to him and play for him. Finally, it shows that perhaps being patient with a coach and not immediately throwing him under the bus is the wiser way to go in college football, particularly one that has a history like Pinkel does of winning and winning consistently.
4. Everything is still on the table. As we enter the gauntlet of our schedule (at Georgia, Florida, South carolina) -- everything -- and I mean everything -- is still on the table, and we should look at it like that. To me, if you play in a conference like the SEC and you are playing like we are playing, you don't start saying you can't win certain things until you actually lose the games. While a sense of realism is certainly important to possess so one is not too disappointed if you don't achieve everything you dreamed of, I also do not think it is unrealistic at this point to talk about more than just a winning season or even just an 8-4/9-3 season.
For instance, yesterday I was really wanting Tennessee to win because I did not buy into the loser mindset of "oh my god, they're (Georgia) going to be so motivated to play us if they lose". Rather, I wanted Georgia to drop a game so they had a conference loss in case we are chasing them for an East title -- which we ARE! The fact is that our schedule is actually quite favorable (compare us to Florida's, for instance, who I think is staring at 6-6, quite possibly), with 3 of our 4 tougher games all at home. Kentucky and Ole Miss (who is about a year or two before I think they will be really good) are games we will be favored in, along with Tennessee at home. As the year goes on, expectations change and I think going 4-3 is perfectly reasonable to "expect" at this point to take us to 9 -- but 10, 11, or even 12 are very possible.
5. Predictions. As I said, I think everything is on the table and we will certainly find out where the limit is for our season in the next three games. In fact, I look the the next three kind of like a tournament. Right now, we are in the winner's bracket, and the game against Georgia is for first place. Lose that, you're playing for 2nd. Lose two you're playing for 3rd. I actually feel quite confident in forecasting at least one win. That's always been my hope for this stretch and it hasn't changed, as I'd really only feel down if we lost all three. However, my actual thinking has exceeded my hopes, so I will go out on a limb and say that I actually think we do beat Florida and South Carolina given how our collective seasons are playing out.. Florida, which has no offense but a great defense, plays us in the middle of a 3 game stretch which includes LSU and Georgia. South Carolina plays us at the tail end of a three game road stretch, including improving Arkansas and Tennessee. I think we do drop the Georgia game, and end up 2-1 and 7-1 overall, with the path to 2nd place in the east in our grasp. They could change, but those are my feelings at the moment.
As for college football as a whole, I focus this week on several predictions. As we go through the heart of the season, I will do this when I feel confident something is going to occur by year's end. It will be fun measuring my accuracy at the end of the season. So here goes...
6. The mighty have almost fallen. My frustration with a lack of upsets continued yesterday, as several teams came close but did not get there. Washington against Stanford. Tennessee against Georgia. Kentucky against South Carolina. TCU against Oklahoma. Northwestern against Ohio State. Stability reigns so far, it appears. I actually think this trend will break soon, and next week presents a few chances -- Missouri at Georgia, South Carolina at Arkansas, Oregon at Washington, Oklahoma vs. Texas, Stanford at Utah, and Michigan at Penn State. I think they'll all be interesting games, save Oregon, who I think continues to roll.
7. Florida goes 6-6. The Florida Gators are a good team with a great defense, but they will be a victim of a brutal schedule. They already have one loss to Miami and still play at LSU, at Missouri, Georgia, at South Carolina, and Florida State. They could win any of those, but I think they actually very well could lose them all, only beating Vandy and Georgia Southern. Ouch.
8. Baylor wins the Big 12....and goes 12-0. Nearby the Gators in the rankings are the Baylor Bears, but in my view they have the opposite path in front of them. They certainly will win at K-State, beat ISU at home, and win at Kansas in their next three. Playing out the year, they also have Oklahoma, Texas, and Texas Tech at home, and I don't think Oklahoma State and TCU will be able to stop them even though those games are on the road. I think they sweep them all and go undefeated. If this plays out, where does this put Baylor in the national title hunt? It will be very interesting to see.
9. While Ohio State will waltz its way to a Leaders title, Michigan will NOT win the Legends Division. Michigan is a fraud, sorry, and I don't agree with any notion that Ohio State and Michigan will play each other back to back. In fact, I think the Wolverines drop at least 2 if not three before they play Ohio State. Who does win the Legends? It's wide open but you might look at Nebraska, who has the favorable schedule.
10. Miami wins the ACC Coastal. This may not seem very bold, but with Virginia Tech entering the rankings, I still don't think there is any doubt -- Miami will walk away with the ACC Coastal division. After defeating Georgia Tech this past weekend, their only real competition is Virginia Tech, who they play at home. To me, the only real question is if they can win at Florida State, but at a minimum I think they go into the ACC title game 11-1, where they will either face a rematch against FSU or play Clemson.
TIK's Top Ten: 1. Oregon; 2. Alabama; 3. Clemson; 4. Florida State; 5. Stanford; 6. Ohio State 7. Georgia; 8. LSU; 9. Baylor; 10. Texas A&M.
Where would I rank Missouri? 18th, right behind Florida.
That's it for this week!