Allow me to channel Ronald Reagan for just a moment.
During his campaign against Jimmy Carter for the 1980 presidency, he asked a simple question of the American voting populace: “Are you better off than you were four years ago?”
On the whole, they weren’t. So they booted Carter and elected Reagan president.
That little history lesson only tangentially relates to the point of this post: is the Missouri football program better off now, 30 games into Barry Odom’s tenure as head coach, than it was nearly three years ago, when the Gary Pinkel era was coming to a close?
In some tangible ways, absolutely. We haven’t had a player protest in, oh, 35 months, for example.
Odom — with the exception of a Kaleb Prewett dismissal here, a Dimetrios Mason dismissal there, a Trevon Walters incident here, a whatever happened to Walter Brady there — has also done a fantastic job keeping his team behaving and out of the news. We haven’t really seen any Dorial Green-Beckham or Maty Mauk sagas under his watch.
Odom helped stabilize a rocky situation after an institution like Pinkel made his exit and, for all the guff people (coughMEcough) give the team about their quality of their wins last year, he did make a bowl in his second season as head coach.
But the transition period is over. The ship has stopped rocking, and this is all Odom’s program by this point.
So is it better off than it was in the final years of Pinkel’s term?
I saw how the Tigers’ offense and defense has performed against Power-5 teams over the past three seasons and compared it to those numbers in the final four under Pinkel (2012-15, the SEC era) to see where the Tigers are better, worse or the same.
The results, in broad strokes, probably won’t surprise you. The finer points might.
- Offense: Pretty much all types. Odom’s offense is averaging 454.3 yards per game and 6.08 yards per play against Power-5 competition, while Pinkel’s final four years saw the Tigers average 366.5 yards a game and 5.21 yards a play. The 2016-18 Tigers average 192.3 rush and 262 pass yards a game, and 4.87 yards a rush and 7.44 yards a pass. Pinkel’s 2012-15 Tigers averaged 166.6 rush and 199.9 pass yards a game, and 4.40 yards a rush and 6.16 yards a pass. Though, and this factors into the “empty calories” argument, Odom’s Tigers average 26.9 points a game and Pinkel’s averaged 24.4. With a yardage split of about 88 yards per game over Pinkel’s, you’d expect that gap to be bigger.
- Line Play: Missouri has averaged 1.18 sacks and 3.18 tackles for loss allowed against Power-5 competition under Odom, or a sack every 30.8 attempts and a tackle for loss every 23.5 plays. Pinkel’s final four years saw the Tigers allow a sack every 15.6 pass attempts (2.23 per game) and a tackle for loss every 10.9 plays (6.43 per game).
- Third-Down Conversions: But not by a whole lot. Odom’s Tigers are converting 39.6 percent of their third-down attempts against Power-5 teams, compared to 35.5 percent in the final four years of the Pinkel regime.
- Defense: All types. Which is funny, right, because Odom was a defensive coordinator? The 2012-15 (and yes, I’m aware Odom had a big hand in the strength of the 2015 defense) Tigers gave up 24.4 points and 381.5 yards per game and 5.21 yards a play, while the 2016-18 Tigers are giving up 34.6 points and 467.6 yards per game and 6.20 yards a play. Pinkel’s pass (228.5 a game, 6.73 a play) and run (153.1 a game, 3.89 a play) were both leagues better than Odom’s current marks: 268.2 pass a game, 8.04 a play; 199.4 run a game; 4.74 a play. The 2016-18 Tigers are also getting sacks (17.7 plays per sack) and tackles for loss (13.0 plays per TFL) less frequently than the 2012-15 Tigers (14.7 plays per sack, 9.86 plays per TFL).
- Turnovers: Both causing and giving. Odom’s Tigers average 2.09 giveaways and 1.36 takeaways a game, or a giveaway every 35.7 plays and a takeaway every 55.3. The 2012-15 Tigers averaged 1.40 giveaways and 1.68 takeaways a game, or a turnover every 50.2 plays and one forced every 43.7.
- Red-Zone Conversions: Yes, the offensive turnaround has not been comprehensive. Pinkel’s Tigers scored on 86.9 percent of their red zone trips, with touchdowns on 56.4 percent and a points-per-trip (3 for a field goal, 6 for a touchdown) mark of 4.27. Odom’s Tigers currently have a 75.6 score percentage, 52.6 TD percentage and 3.85 PPT in the red zone. The defense, though, is also slightly better in the red zone than Pinkel’s was. Its score percentage is worse (86.7 vs. 82.4), but its TD percentage (60.0 vs. 65.5) and PPT (4.40 vs. 4.44) are slightly better. Pinkel’s defenses also allowed 38.0 percent on third down, while Odom’s are allowing 44.8 percent.
- Recruiting Rank: Pinkel’s 2012-15 classes ranked 33rd nationally and 12th in the SEC on Rivals, on average. Odom’s 2016-18 rank 45th and 13th. Pinkel’s average star rating for his recruits was 3.00, Odom’s is 2.85. Odom is doing an equal, if not better, job at having his signees actually see the field, though. The class of 2016 has already has 90.9 percent of its players see the field — more than any of Pinkel’s final four years — 2017 is off to a good clip at 80.0 percent and 2018 is already at 61.5 percent.
- Overall Record: Odom is 7-15 against Power-5 teams. Pinkel was 21-19 over his final four years.
This probably isn’t a fair comparison though, right? We should probably compare Pinkel’s marks from his first three years against Odom’s if we wanted a fairer one, right?
Well, I did. Except for sacks, tackles for loss, third downs and red zone, since I can’t find game-by-game accounting of those stats back in 2001 to give me a full picture of what came against Power-5 and non-Power-5.
It’s mostly the same story. Odom’s offense is better (26.9 to 25.7 points per game; 454.3 to 366.8 yards per game) and his defense is worse (34.6 to 29.7, 467.6 to 434.0) than Pinkel’s was over his first three years. So, too, are the rates worse at which the Tigers force turnovers and give up the ball in 2016-18 than they were in 2001-03.
Here’s a kind of interesting thing, though: Pinkel’s record against Power-5 opponents over his first three years was 11-17. That’s better than Odom’s mark of 7-15.
It’s also better than the final three years of Larry Smith: 9-19. So, by this point in Pinkel’s tenure, he had already bested the previous guy’s record against Power-5 competition in a comparable period.
Odom would have to go 14-3 (with bowl wins) against the Power 5 over the next two years to beat Pinkel’s mark from 2012-15.
Hey, why not start with Alabama?
Look at the work below, if you wish: