Missouri’s play this season has been infuriatingly inconsistent; the coaching decisions have been erratic and controversial.
Missouri’s struggles during a 4-4 start to the season have been well-documented here and elsewhere. Barry Odom’s future at Missouri has been discussed; timelines have been laid out; thermometers have been placed under his seat after every game.
I’m as guilty of this as anyone, flip-flopping back and forth about Odom’s job security.
(Spoiler alert: I’m flip-flopping again.)
The first College Football Playoff rankings, released Tuesday night, were a sharp reminder that maybe things aren’t as bad in Columbia as they seem. They were a sharp reminder that maybe we’re all too close to the situation, and a higher-level view is required.
Three of Missouri’s four losses have come to teams currently ranked in the top nine of the CFP rankings. That includes Alabama at No. 1 (in other news: water is wet), Georgia at six and — ahead of Ohio State — Kentucky at 9. Missouri’s played two of those three teams close; hell, even a 29-point loss to Alabama was the closest game the Crimson Tide have played this year.
Florida, Missouri’s opponent on Saturday, is at 11.
It’s fair to question Missouri’s struggles, the long-term future of the program under Odom; the talent-level, the turnover of assistant coaches, etc.
But there’s also something to be said that 75-percent of Missouri’s losses have come to Top 10 teams. There’s something to be said that Missouri has played the 23rd-toughest schedule in the nation, according to Bill Connelly’s Résumé S&P+ Rankings, or the fifth-toughest, according to the Sagarin Rankings, or the 12th-toughest, according to Football Outsiders.
All use different ways to get to that difficulty; some are in the moment (Connelly’s) while others were preseason (Football Outsiders) — but I think we can all agree that Missouri has had a very difficult schedule this season, one that takes a big step down in difficulty after the Florida game.
Maybe, just maybe, Missouri lost to three top 10 teams, and had one fluky loss to a team that’s relatively equal in terms of talent-level and expectations (South Carolina).
Maybe Missouri will lose to Florida. The Gators are both favored and ranked; the game is on the road.
If the bottom falls out after that, then this is a moot point. But after Saturday, Missouri would have played four of the top five highest-ranked teams in the SEC. The Tigers might be 4-5 after that. There’s still work left to be done — Odom’s teams need to learn how to win close games against good opponents.
But 7-5, with a shot to win an eighth in a bowl game? If you look at the big picture, at who Missouri has played, the storm clouds in Columbia start to part a bit.