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Damarea Crockett might be done for the year. So why am I feeling a little optimistic?

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I mean, not EXTREMELY optimistic, but more than a week ago.

NCAA Football: Idaho at Missouri Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

Be careful what you wish for, I guess. We wanted more information about Damarea Crockett, and we got it—Mizzou is preparing as if he’s done for the season.

“Fingers crossed he might be able to make it back in this season but we’ve also got to make sure that we prepare like he’s not going to be available,” Odom said. “Ish (Witter) and Larry (Rountree III) have to do a great job as well as the rest of the offense picking up that until he can get back.

Now, this could obviously be misdirection in the other direction, but we’ll take Odom at his word. Because of the flashes Larry Rountree III has shown of late — a nice kick return against Georgia, a nasty 50-yard run against Idaho — there’s at least a chance that Mizzou is able to keep chugging forward with its improving offense without Crockett. But it’s pretty jarring to look back at my preseason Count the Ifs list to see, well, just how many ifs haven’t come true.

  1. If Damarea Crockett stays healthy — no
  2. If DeMarkus Acy is solid — not really
  3. If the offensive line improves to 65th in Adj. Line Yards — yes! (currently eighth)
  4. If the defensive line improves to 65th in Adj. Line Yards — yes! (currently 43rd)
  5. If Tucker McCann is ... stable — I guess? He’s missed two FGs and a PAT and was just suspended for a game, but that’s still light years ahead of 2016
  6. If Drew Lock hits 145 (passer rating) — yes! (currently at 160.4 thanks to the last three games)
  7. If Mizzou defensive ends record 30 TFLs — no (currently on pace for 22)
  8. If Johnathan Johnson holds onto the damn ball — yes! mostly!
  9. If Kaleb Prewett produces something like the following stat line: 6 TFLs, 1 sack, 1 INT, 5 PBUs, 1 FF — no (current pace: 3 TFLs, 0 sacks, 0 INTs, 2 PBUs)
  10. If the tight ends combine for 70 catches — no (current pace: 35 receptions, albeit with 700 receiving yards and 13 TDs)
  11. If the defensive line ranks in the top 30 in Adj. Line Yards — no
  12. If DeMarkus Acy is E.J. Gaines Incarnate — noooooo
  13. If J’Mon Moore is November 2016 J’Mon more — not enough
  14. If Mizzou gets some astral assistance — lol no

The positive spin would be to point out that five of the first eight have been checked. The less positive spin: the first two (i.e. the two most important) have not .... nor have any of the last six come close.

So why am I feeling loads more optimistic about this season than I was a week ago? Well, it starts with actually seeing the team win. That can do wonders for morale even when it’s against a bad team. I’m not going to pretend I’m immune to those effects, even as I acknowledge them.

But it also has to do with just how bad Missouri’s last four SEC opponents have looked.

In one week, Missouri’s odds of reaching six wins, per my S&P+ win projections, improved from 6% to 25%.

  • The Florida game has become a virtual tossup with the Gators’ recent struggles (and with Missouri rebounding in the rankings following Saturday’s solid performance (even when adjusting for opponent).
  • The Tennessee game has gone from tossup to Mizzou lean thanks to that whole “Tennessee’s offense doesn’t score touchdowns” thing. (The Vols’ offense hasn’t put the ball into the end zone since September and hasn’t scored more than 20 points since Week 2.)
  • The Vanderbilt game has become a virtual tossup, despite Vandy’s home-field advantage, because the Commodores have completely collapsed since getting roughed up by Alabama. (They’re now coming off a bye week, so maybe that has allowed for some regrouping.)
  • The Arkansas game has become a virtual tossup, despite Arkansas’ home-field advantage, because the Razorbacks have stunk for most of the year. (Others have noticed.)

Now, Missouri still isn’t what you would quantify as “good.” The Tigers post-Idaho rise took them only to all of 78th, after all — below New Mexico, New Mexico State, Army, and plenty of other schools you’d prefer not to be below. But you have to start somewhere. Missouri’s defense actually found a pulse of sorts on Saturday, and that might be all it takes to generate some semblance of hope heading into November.

Per the stat profile, Odom’s Tigers now have a five percent chance of winning out and a 20 percent chance of winning four of the last five. Those aren’t great odds, but they’re better than they were a week ago. Look good against UConn, and they might rise further.

We know that playing Idaho and UConn isn’t the same as playing four-star athletes (even four-star athletes who are struggling to remember how to actually play football), and we know that the Mizzou offense tends to overachieve drastically against G5/FCS competition while struggling to do the same against actual SEC defenses. (And that says nothing about the fact that Crockett might be done.) But we’re in the “hope” stage right now. We don’t need legitimate, overwhelming evidence for optimism — we’re just looking for some shreds here and there. And for now, at least, we’ve got them.