December was a good month for the Missouri football program.
Nearly everything that happened — big-time transfers (Kelly Bryant, Shawn Robinson), finishing the regular season in the Top-25, a new (and deserved) extension for Barry Odom — cast Missouri in a positive light.
(This doesn’t ignore nor mitigate the on-going situation with defensive end Tre Williams, who was arrested on suspicion of domestic assault on Dec. 10. With Odom’s disciplinary track record, that hasn’t been viewed as indicative of a program issue.)
Barry Odom has gone from hot-seat talk to “Can Missouri potentially make a run in the SEC East next year?” talk. That’s what happened you finish the regular season in dominant fashion, when you answer recruiting questions with your best recruiting class as a head coach and sign the biggest graduate transfer quarterback on the market.
Things are going well for Missouri football right now, and that’s without any actual football games in over a month. That changes on Monday, as Missouri faces Oklahoma State in the Autozone Liberty Bowl at 2:45 p.m. CT.
A win gives Missouri its first nine-win season since 2014. Missouri has won exactly nine games in a year only twice before — 1899 and 1969. They’ve had better years than this one, but if the Tigers win on Monday, it will certainly be a unique year.
That’s not what makes the Liberty Bowl so important for Missouri, though. What makes it important is that Odom and Missouri have the opportunity to head into the offseason completely unencumbered by any negative on-the-field story lines around the team. Momentum doesn’t carry over from one year to the next — and it isn’t even real to begin with — but Missouri still has the chance to continue this run of nearly uninterrupted positive publicity around the program.
Win on Monday, go 9-4 on the season, and another box can be checked by Barry Odom’s program.
— Beat a ranked opponent on the road? Did that. Throttled Florida, who just did the same to Michigan, and will finish in the top-ten in the nation.
— Improve from a year ago? Check. Won eight games.
— Put together some perfect games? Yes (Florida) and yes (Tennessee) and yes (Arkansas).
— End the season with a bang?
We’ll see on the last one. But a win will likely send Missouri into a delightfully low-key offseason where the talk will be about double-digit wins in 2019.
I’m looking forward to that reality.
Liberty Bowl: Time, TV channel, game information
Time: 2:45 p.m. CT
Date: Monday, Dec. 31, 2018
Location: Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium, Memphis, Tenn.
Weather: Rain in the morning, but cloudy and 57 degrees at kickoff with 5% chance of rain through the evening.
Liberty Bowl: Watch online
Fans can watch the Liberty Bowl online at WatchESPN.com with a valid cable/satellite log-in.
Liberty Bowl: Betting odds
Missouri opened as a ten-point favorite and the line has moved to Missouri -8.5 or -9. The over/under is 73.