It is amazing how our perspectives can change over 14 weeks. Back after the win vs. Murray State, many of us were just hoping for a winning season or perhaps 8 or 9 wins, and we'd go home happy. I had us at 9-3 and felt that was optimistic, and at the time, it was. National prognosticators were no different in their feelings about Mizzou and the SEC overall - I doubt anyone, anywhere had it as Mizzou vs. Auburn. And who could blame them? They were a combined 2-14 in the SEC last year. Yet now, the Tigers and Tigers are both 11-1, find themselves champions and will play each other for the SEC Championship next week and at minimum, a trip to the Sugar Bowl.
So, with that, here are this week's "ten thoughts" - and with our win, there is at least one more edition coming this year! Thank you for all who read and comment, I truly enjoy writing this "column" every week.
1. My emotions have Tiger tracks on them. Confession time - I didn't feel confident about our chances at many points of last night's game. Aside from their loss against LSU, Texas A&M had put up mega points on opponent after opponent this year, including Auburn and Alabama in losses, so I thought we were going to have to win a shootout. Thus, when we were not moving the ball in the first half, I had this fear that A&M would march down the field and we'd be down 28-7 before we knew it. Then again, in the 4th quarter, after A&M had tied it and we had two straight possessions which amounted to exactly nothing, I had visions of Manziel marching his Aggies down the field for the win. These fears, of course, were built upon years of emotions with Tiger tracks on them, including even this year with the loss to South Carolina. Yet, it didn't happen. Our defense stood strong and finally, the red sea parted.
2. Oh, Henry! The red sea parting was exactly how I felt when that hole opened up for Henry Josey. Could anyone have scripted it better than to have Mr. Josey, who has been through so much, who will forever be a legend in the eyes of Tiger fans? I'll take that over the crazy Auburn heroics any day. And, those emotions? They turned into real black and gold tears when Josey crossed the goal line with no flags. We were going to Atlanta!
3. It makes sense we'll play Auburn. I certainly would have preferred to play Alabama, because as someone who follows the BCS Standings closely, I knew there was a chance Alabama wouldn't drop far enough to fall past Mizzou , and also simply because Alabama is the king of college football - having the chance to knock them off would have cemented our season. But, given the storybook fashion in which Auburn has won its games, it also makes sense to me that they are the team Mizzou will have to beat. In a way, it's "storybook vs. meat and potatoes". Auburn made its way to the title via a tipped pass that somehow was placed in the hands of a WR whose back was to the quarterback and a field goal return with :00 no the clock. Mizzou, on the other hand, actually had a heartbreaking loss a month ago, but earned its path with methodical wins against every other team in the SEC, slowing winning the respect of our SEC brethren. Don't get me wrong, Auburn is a fine football team and has truly been impressive all year, but as a college football fan alone, I want to know -- whose rags to riches story will win out? The unbelievable fairy tale or the inspiring novel? We'll find out in six days.
4. Gary Pinkel is good for college football. Congratulations to Gary Pinkel on his 101st victory, a mark which ties that of Mizzou legend and namesake Don Faurot. But, more than the record itself, I think Gary Pinkel's story is good for college football. Gary Pinkel, perhaps, will now be the coach people reference when discussing when it is appropriate to stick with a coach that brought you to the dance. Gary Pinkel, perhaps, can put the rest to the notion that the "modern pressures of college football require you to make a change". Now, don't get me wrong - there may be a good reason to move on from a coach, and this doesn't excuse the fact that there might have been issues with Pinkel. However, the point is here that Alden gave Pinkel a chance to correct them and he seized the moment, and that's a testament to Alden's patience and PInkel's determination to prove himself. I think the ongoing coaching carousel has been a problem for the game and so, to the degree our season can help slow that down, that is a good thing.
5. This won't be a one year fluke. Not to already begin talking about next year, but I did want to mention this, as I know many Tiger fans are perhaps asking themselves the question, "Can this last?" in the back of their minds. Not just this year in the two games we have remaining, but next year and beyond. I think the answer to that question is yes. Now, if there is anything this year has taught us it is that one year doesn't mean anything for the next year, but you can forecast things, I think, by looking a little deeper. For instance, though Mizzou was 5-7 last year, we had the talent on our roster to be quite good, when healthy. So, assuming that talent stays healthy, even with the folks we lose, I think things bode well for us. Looking at next year in itself, we will have talent again on both sides of the ball, and the schedule sets up nicely. I like how we compare to our SEC East competition versus where they are at, and I think recruiting will continue to pick up which will help us in future years, as well. So, I think the winning continues.
Bonus basketball thought: We're 7-0, folks. Though none of our wins have exactly been impressive, we still have gotten through the early portion of our schedule unfazed. Now, however, we enter the more difficult part of the non-con, with talented West Virginia and a ranked UCLA squad in our next two. We'll certainly find out a lot about the basketball Tigers. I actually think we could very well win both but also lose both. I'm very much up in the air about this team, but I think it has more potential than people might think. These next two are very important. I'll predict a split but hoping for the sweep!
Bonus volleyball thought: 34-0. Holy cow. Congratulations to the SEC Champion volleyball team who is now outdrawing basketball in attendance (for a couple games, anyway) and is poised to make a run at a national title, as well. It's my feeling that volleyball, if it keeps this up, has the potential of being "the third sport" at Mizzou. We'll see.
On to college football as a whole...
6. College football is the best sport in the land. I love baseball. I like the NFL. I love college basketball, too. But, all three of those sports have lost an edge to them and in my mind, college football has surpassed all as the best sport, in terms of how it's constructed, in the country. I think this will only continue when we go to the 4-team playoff, which will help fix the one flaw that has held back the game - the postseason. Setting that aside, look at this weekend's games -- Oregon-Oregon State, Auburn-Alabama, Michigan-Ohio State, etc. The way some of these games were played and even more, how they ended, are hard to duplicate in any other sport for their drama and pageantry. College football still has flaws, mind you -- affordability and declining attendance being the main two, to me -- but it most captures the spirit of America, in my view. Perhaps that's too romantic of a notion but it's one I hold. I hope the powers that be don't screw it up and fix what needs fixing, because it would truly be a shame if the game ever lost this mantle.
7. I'm not buying the Buckeyes for the title. I know they're 12-0. They're a good football team. But, in my mind, they are not the 2nd best team in the country and frankly, I'm not even sure I'd put them in a 4-team playoff. Because of the true lack of out-of-conference competition and the degree to which the Big Ten, as a whole, has under-performed, we have to look at things like margin of victory. I know rivalry games are famous for being closer than they should be, but to barely escape against a hobbled Devin Gardner and a Michigan team that barely beat Akron and UCONN is something that I think should demote them behind Alabama, Auburn, and Missouri. The good news is, I don't think we'll have to worry about this as I think Michigan State beats them next week.
8. I'm cheering for Duke. Obviously, we all are, but I'm doing it for a reason beyond just hoping Missouri makes the title. I also am cheering for Duke because of the Winston factor. I addressed this in a previous week, but this has a real potential to make things messy. If he gets charged in the next week, voters might drop them even if they beat Duke, and how fair would that be to the rest of the team? If he doesn't get charged in the next week but is subsequently, then Florida State could very well be without their QB in the title game, and how fair is that to college football? And, even worse, what happens if he's charged and thus doesn't play, and as a result they get dropped OR lose, but then he's found not guilty? All of these scenarios are possible and none are pretty. So, yes, go Blue Devils.
9. Funny position for Sparty. Michigan State finds itself in the very odd position of going to the Rose Bowl, no matter what they do in the Big Ten title game. If they win, they're in, obviously, as they would get the automatic berth. If they lose, however, Ohio State will most likely make it to the National Championship and the Rose Bowl would likely pick the Spartans. The only thing that could change that is for some reason, the Buckeyes barely escape again and the voters would choose to elevate the Auburn/Missouri winner over Ohio State for the NCG, giving Ohio State the Rose Bowl.
10. It's hard to rank the Top 10. Right now, I do think you have to put Florida State (though even they have only one really great victory and that team has now lost a second game) first, but after that it gets really difficult. Some would say Ohio State, because they're 12-0, but I already talked about the flaws with that line of thinking, even though I think it has some justification. Some would certainly say Auburn, because they're 11-1 and just beat Alabama. But, what about Alabama, who among the one loss teams has the best loss (Auburn lost LSU, Missouri to SC, Sparty to ND, Baylor to OSU, OSU to WV) and who lost on a miracle? But how could you rank them head of Auburn, who just beat theam? What about Missouri, who has no truly narrow escapes but lost in OT when a FG hit the upright? It's not just about who is #2 but how do you rank the rest? It's tough and I don't envy the position of anyone ranking the teams. Below, I'll give it a shot
TiK's Top Ten
1. Florida State; 2. Auburn; 3. Missouri; 4. Alabama; 5. Ohio State; 6. Michigan State; 7. South Carolina; 8. Oklahoma State; 9. Arizona State; 10. Baylor
That's it for this week!