Today is for licking wounds. Since I'm also an Arizona alum I am already in a fairly philosophical place after being on the ass end of a conference title game beat down on Friday.
I can't blame anyone who isn't exactly jubilant about Missouri football right now, but it's hardly a day for hanging heads. There is work yet to be done. The game itself should be easily enough dispensed with; Missouri is not a program in the same league as Alabama. We can quibble about plays not made here or there (poor Charles Harris, in the open field with Amari Cooper; rotten fumble luck) but a blowout was always the most likely outcome. But consider this.
2014 Was Supposed To Be A Re-Tooling Year
Let that sink in for a second.
Following the 2013 SEC title game loss to Auburn many of us were saying that after a magical season when everything kind of came together 2014 had the potential to be something of a take-a-step-back-while-inexperienced-guys-develop kind of year. I mean, sure, we knew Markus Golden and Shane Ray would be good. But what about their backups? Who could replace E.J. Gaines at corner? Mauk-to-DGB would just have to be unstoppable for Missouri to be decent.
In many ways 2014 really has been precisely about developing inexperienced guys. We didn't know exactly what we'd get from guys like Michael Scherer, Aarion Penton, Tayor Chappell, et al. in expanded roles, and they're the difference between six, eight, and 10 flawed wins. When those guys play their last game for Mizzou (barring the unforeseen) we'll be saying, "Seems like they've been here nine years." Well, that's what player development looks like. It's easy to take for granted.
Living in Columbia East I can tell you first hand the Gamecock faithful would have crawled over broken glass for the season Mizzou just had. That is to say nothing of Georgia fans. Seems ages ago, but South Carolina began the season No. 9 with unproven guys stepping into new or expanded roles. It went how those kinds of seasons can go. They have some talent, but the young guys on defense really took their lumps. It can happen. Georgia lost guys to suspension expected to contribute, just like Mizzou. The Dawgs played just inconsistently enough to be left scratching their collective head about what might have been.
Lots Left to Play For
I am not a playoff proponent. In fact, I refuse to even call what college football has a playoff. When a committee invites participants based on criteria that are not known a priori, and without automatic bids for conference champions, what you have is a post-season invitational not a playoff.
If nothing else though, college football's rampant inequality is now entirely de-mystified. College football showers royalty programs with ENORMOUS legacy benefits while layering on disadvantages for middle-class programs. Things like recruiting, which is the lifeblood of the sport, can turn based on the program doing the recruiting. Three-stars become four-stars based on who is recruiting, which is a function of being seen in the first place. Then those rankings become self-propelling (if not self-aware) markers of program quality.
I used to get so annoyed by fans of royalty programs. But, in an odd way their obnoxiousness and seeming arrogance is the natural outgrowth of so much built-in advantage. Why would they be interested in anything less than a conference title, and eventually even kinda take that for granted? Even when royalty programs fall on legitimately hard times, like at Michigan, college football can be very forgiving. Who doubts that with a prudent hire they can't be back in the hunt for a B1G title in 3-5 years?
College football is far more hostile to solidly middle-class programs like Missouri. Every winning (i.e., bowl eligible) season is precious. Fans certainly do not have the luxury of taking any 9 or 10 win season for granted. Winning and developing pro talent are the only ways middle-class programs get to move to a better neighborhood, and even then it's not a sure thing.
Look at Auburn, an upper-middle-class program that's never been quite accepted by the blue bloods. On the other hand, not winning guarantees slippage. Texas can afford a down season while Charlie Strong cleans house. Even if he doesn't work out they'll bounce back if they hit on a QB. I'd go so far as to say Missouri had to win the East in 2013 to offset 2012, which was a near fatal blow to everything Pinkel had built.
For a program like Missouri, every trip to the Who Gives a Damn Bowl is invaluable in the program's development. Fans of this kind of program have to help build it. They have to show out when Game Day comes to campus, and sell out the bowl games. They don't get to sit back and grouse about why the championships aren't just rolling in. So, shake it off. Get your game faces back on. It doesn't matter who the team plays in the bowl game or where. We ain't got it like that yet. It's all about getting that extra win. That could be the difference in getting one more recruit's eyes on the program, or from straying.
(And would it kill you to send a note to Terry Beckner, Jr. to wish him luck on final exams?)