Ideally, you’d always like for your favorite team to be really good. It’s not the end of the world if they’re pretty bad, though.
Think about it this way: if your team is always good, you don’t have anything to worry about. Whether it’s consistently competing for championships or steadfast quality with occasional shots at greatness, it’s nice to consistently win more than you lose.
On the other hand, it’s not the worst thing if your team is... well, the worst thing. Sports are sort of like real-life video games — if you fail too much, you can always start over (though, admittedly, without a completely clean slate). Professional teams get the added bonus of drafting. If you lose a lot, you’ll likely end up with a good player to help your league achieve parity. It’s not as simple with college sports and recruiting, but you’re always only one lucky hire away from a winning culture.
The added benefit of being either definitively good or bad is the peace of mind it allows fans to have. New England Patriots loyalists may quibble about Tom Brady’s diet or whatever thing they could possibly have to be upset about, but they’re all pretty cool with how things are run up there. At the same time, Pittsburgh Pirates’ fans can disagree on management versus roster talent versus inherent market disadvantage, but they all agree on one thing: “Damn, our team sucks. We should do something to fix it!”
That’s a lot of preamble to get to the idea that the Missouri Tigers, headed into their second bye week, are neither of these things. And that makes them incredibly hard to talk about.
We here at Rock M Nation have had internal conversations over the past few days and have come to the realization that we may have been a little too high on this team. You can say it’s because we’re fans and not journalists, but go ahead and look over how professional types were looking at the Tigers headed into this year. Even after the Tigers lost to Wyoming, they were spoken of as a sort of sleeping Beast in the East.
It’s not as if the hype was all fabricated from thin air, either. Lest we forget amongst the thick cloud of mid-October, the Tigers were a really good football team for about a month and a half. Bill C’s SP+ had them as a Top 15 team. The defense was shutting down everyone they faced, including a team that would eventually topple Georgia in Athens. Kelly Bryant had the offense humming like a well-oiled machine. Missouri was absolutely pummeling anyone in their path, and no one could say they looked anything less than dominant.
But after some break-checking in the wake of Vanderbilt, it’s hard to ignore the fact that the Tigers have looked like a completely different team these past two weeks.
Mizzou's SP+ percentile performances by game:— Bill Connelly (@ESPN_BillC) October 27, 2019
@ Wyo: 70%
S Caro: 58%
Ole Miss: 78%
@ Vandy: 12%
@ UK: 11%
Wide receivers can’t get open. Tucker McCann forgot how to kick a football that wasn’t snapped directly to him. The line crumbles when the opposing linemen glare too intently.
You can chalk it up to a simple home-road mentality, but even that feels too bizarre to explain it. Even in the Wyoming loss, Missouri looked somewhat good. They simply fell victim to rotten turnover luck and a defense that hadn’t yet tuned up. Say what you like about Barry Odom or Derek Dooley or Kelly Bryant or whomever — there’s little precedent for a team to crumple like the Tigers have in the past two weeks.
Which gets back to the original point — how are we supposed to talk about these Tigers? Are they the borderline elite team we saw in the first six weeks, going through the world’s worst rut? Or are they the team that could barely stand up against two of the SEC East’s weakest programs? They’re probably neither, but that doesn’t leave us with a lot of ground on which to stand.
Missouri fans are a skeptical breed. Maybe it’s the “Show Me” branding that Barry Odom stressed so heavily. Maybe the state’s motto really says something about her people. Either way, many Tiger fans have been slow to support this year’s team. That earned them reprimands from a lot of people, including on this site. But after another week in which the Tigers looked helpless and hopeless, it’s time to admit they might’ve been onto something.
As the rain poured and the clock dwindled in Lexington, Missouri Twitter was ablaze with fans aligning themselves with different ideas about this team. Some said it was all on Odom. Some wondered if Drew Lock had covered up for talent deficiencies. Some maintained their support of a program that seems to be stalling.
The only consensus was no consensus. It would’ve been easy to reach one if Missouri was outrightly bad. It would be even easier if Missouri was undoubtedly good.
But for right now, Missouri is positively neither, leaving fans, media and everyone in between to wonder how in the hell we’re supposed to make sense of what we’ve seen.