Barry Odom has a chance on Saturday to do the one thing he’s failed to do since he arrived at Missouri. He has the chance to get Mizzou fans excited about the team after a big win early in the season.
That may sound like a small thing. I assure you, it is not.
Mizzou fans need a reason to be optimistic about the team. Kansas City sports columnist Sam Mellinger has always said Kansas City fans come about their pessimism honestly; I think the same could be said about Mizzou fans.
This is a proud fan base. But it’s a fan base that’s experienced a whole hell of a lot of heartbreak. You don’t need me to tell you about it. You lived it.
And you don’t want to experience it again.
It feels like every time you get excited about Mizzou, you open yourself up to be let down. So, more often than not, Mizzou fans try to prevent that hurt from being possible. Tigers fans put up a wall only strong enough to be knocked down by a team that gives them a reason to be optimistic.
Those walls get stronger as the season goes on and the losses mount. They get weaker with every win early in the season.
This team has the chance to knock down some of those walls on Saturday. It would be the first time the Tigers have done it since Odom took over as head coach in 2016.
There was nothing to get excited about in 2016; the season was over before it ever began. The scars from the 2015 season had yet to heal over, and the on-field product was never going to amount to much by way of optimism.
2017 was a bit different. There was legitimate reason for optimism going into the year. Drew Lock had a year of starting experience under his belt, the defense was expected to improve. Things were moving in the right direction. But lopsided losses early in the season against South Carolina and Purdue built up walls too thick to be broken down by the time Mizzou finished the year with six-straight wins.
And last year was much of the same. The Tigers’ losses against South Carolina and Kentucky once again took the wind out of the sails before Odom’s first signature win on the road at Florida. That should have generated fan interest; it was too late. The walls were already built, and the fan base was out before they had a chance to be in.
This is Odom’s shot.
There was cautious optimism about this team heading into the season. The Wyoming loss rebuilt some of those walls. But the West Virginia win knocked some of them down. A win this weekend would go a long way in getting Mizzou fans to completely buy in.
Add in some good news from the NCAA before the end of the month about the bowl ban, and Columbia could be rocking for the Troy game.
But none of that is possible without a win against South Carolina. This is the swing game. It was always going to be that way. It feels like it’s been that way for Mizzou since the Tigers entered the SEC.
This is a huge game for Odom. All of the team’s goals are in front of them. The fan base is almost ready to jump back on board. ‘If you build it, they will come.’
It’s time to start building. All they have to do is win, baby.