The Missouri Tigers no longer have to wait to find our their fate from the NCAA.
On Tuesday, the news came crashing down on Missouri that the NCAA Infractions Appeals Committee would be upholding the Committee on Infractions’ original sanctions, turning themselves into a laughingstock in the process by making an entire athletic program wait over four months just to say, “Sorry, we’re just going to go with what we thought the whole time.”
With the dark cloud of the whether or not the bowl ban would be lifted finally out of the way, one thing is clear: the Tigers’ game against Arkansas at 1:30 p.m. Friday will be their last game of the 2019 season, regardless of the result.
Which begs the question: is there really anything left for Missouri to play for?
It’s been a significantly underwhelming season overall. The Tigers had one of the easiest schedules a Southeastern Conference team could have lined up, with four very winnable non-conference games, two of the worst teams in the West, and only two ranked teams in division rivals Georgia and Florida (a team Missouri had beaten both of the previous two years) on the docket.
But the Tigers completely regressed in Barry Odom’s fourth season as head coach and now head into Little Rock, Arkansas, with a 5-6 record (2-5 SEC) and five losses in a row.
With no bowl eligibility coming as a result of a win over the Razorbacks, and no top two (or even top four) finish in the East possible, it would be almost too easy for Missouri to pack it in on the season. Maybe playing the top underclassmen would be a good way to get them some playing time since they’ll be the ones relied on to take over next season.
As we all know, a large chunk of the fan base (or more accurately, the ones who can’t wait to voice their displeasure on social media) packed it in weeks ago. Why wouldn’t the team do the same?
Well, because even though it doesn’t seem like it, the Tigers still believe there are enough reasons to try and finish the season on a good note.
For the seniors (and probably for at least one or two juniors), this is it. It’s their last game as college football players. Kelly Bryant, Johnathon Johnson, Richaud Floyd, Yasir Durant, DeMarkus Acy, and Ronnell Perkins are among the 18 seniors who won’t have the opportunity to lace up their cleats, put on their pads and run onto Faurot Field again.
Some of those guys may make a practice squad in the NFL and a couple might get drafted, and with some work they may even make a career out of playing football, but for many, it’s the last time they’ll get to do this. Why not go out there and lay it all on the line one last time?
Nick Bolton, in particular, should be out there playing his butt off. In just his first year as a starter, PFF College has Bolton as the highest graded linebacker in the country. Maybe that’s not the highest honor, but with another dominant performance against Arkansas after a season full of them, Bolton could definitely play his way into All-SEC consideration. Why not go out and try to make it happen?
And with Odom possibly coaching for his job Friday, the players should have every incentive to not falter on the field one last time.
At least publicly, there has been no talk from athletic director Jim Sterk or anyone else in the athletic department about Odom being on the hot seat. But fans’ voices are loud — especially when they refuse to fill the Memorial Stadium seats — and there are a lot of them who will be calling for Odom’s neck even louder than before if his team puts up a dud in Little Rock.
Every player who’s been asked, though, has voiced their belief in Odom as the coach. Every single one has said Odom is the right man for the job. Even players who won’t be on campus until this spring at the earliest have taken to social media to back up Odom.
If the players truly have faith in Odom, and if he’s truly fighting for his job, why wouldn’t they go out there and do whatever they can to help him save it?
There’s a number of other reasons (pride, bragging rights in the Battle Line Rivalry, a would-be bowl eligible record, etc.) that make it necessary for Missouri to not just roll over for Arkansas.
Making a bowl is always the end goal of a team’s season, but even though there isn’t one on the horizon for the Tigers, that doesn’t mean they have nothing left to play for.