A new college football season is upon us. Just a few more days. Oh, the optimism.
Everyone’s team is undefeated, and every fan base is flush with national championship aspirations (about five teams have a realistic shot) that, for most of us, will be shot to hell by early October – if not sooner.
‘Tis the cruel, cruel reality of those of us who make up the college football nerdery.
Before I go any further, I would hate not to acknowledge those readers who have little time for my rambling.
For those privy to the [tl;dr] scene, let me tie a ribbon around this thing for you. Here’s your hodge-podge synopsis of Mizzou’s best/worst-case scenarios for the 2019 football season so that you may go about your day:
1. Kelly Bryant trips over grass in Laramie, tears ACL on non-contact play to miss remainder of season
2. Tigers smoke early-season non-conference opponents by combined score of 125-17 to start 3-0
3. Jordan Elliott ruptures Achilles days before start of crucial mid-season stretch in freak accident involving nothing at all football-related
4. Tigers get off South Carolina schneid without aide of monsoon or unforgiving left upright
5. Mizzou forces five turnovers in Lexington, loses 9-6 after Jalani Williams’ would-be go-ahead pick six is nullified by DeMarkus Acy holding call on Kentucky WR Ahmad Wagner
Yes, that exact same Ahmad Wagner.
The call that made it possible. pic.twitter.com/iyHrfo8RDp— Brandon Kiley (@BKSportsTalk) October 27, 2018
6. Defense leads SEC in turnovers, including four in epic win in Athens that leads to late-season Top 10 ranking
7. Offense is blanked by Tennessee and Arkansas in consecutive games to close the season, two teams the Tigers beat by a combined score of 88-17 in 2018
8. Barry Odom wins SEC Coach of the Year honors after Tigers ride Georgia win to Top 5 finish
9. Mizzou finishes 2019 tops in SEC in alcohol sales, easing the pain of 5-7 season
10. Tigers lose SEC title to Bama but earn first-ever New Year’s Six berth as bowl ban appeal is triumphant; Victory Whiskey rains from heavens
11. Bowl ban appeal is triumphant, Mizzou draws Baylor, Mack Rhoades in Autozone Liberty Bowl in game that will be played in front of 8,500 people
During the three weeks of coach speak called fall camp, no player is off limits. We hear grown men gush about last year’s third-string running back: He’s put on a ton of needed weight but hasn’t lost an ounce of speed. He’s been virtually living in the film room. Oh, and he’s matured!
We know better than to assume anything, except that he must’ve transformed himself into a first-string badass.
That is, until he gains 2.4 per carry in the opener, and other grown men take to the Internet, say “Seriously, bro?!,” and proclaim that the kid was third-string last season for a reason.
It’s sort of like playing Devil’s advocate against yourself, really. But we love it. Especially at Mizzou.
The possibility that the bowl ban could be upheld notwithstanding, 2019 could be a special season for Mizzou football. On the other hand, 2019 could be a very Mizzou-ish season for Mizzou football.
Does Kelly Bryant lead the program to its first-ever New Year’s Six bowl game? Does that scenario earn him Heisman votes? Or, does he blow a tire on the first play against Wyoming?
Does Barry Odom’s in-game management improve? Or, are we destined to endure a couple of losses that the nation never saw coming but Mizzou fans could have scripted with 100 percent accuracy?
Odom has had the program on an upward trajectory since his second season in 2017, and if we are to believe the trend will continue, somewhere in the neighborhood of 10 wins – barring any South Carolina or Kentucky type of meltdowns – shouldn’t be just a logical projection…
It should be the expectation.
[Oh, great, the new guy is a sunshine-pumper. Quick, we need some David Morrison-like logic to cool his jets.]
Hear me out; I’ll get to the cynicism later. I have to … the title of the post calls for it.
Overall, we know what we’re going to get from the offense. Derek Dooley is going to be balanced, and his unit should be able to put up points on any defense this season – including Georgia.
It will be interesting to see how Dooley incorporates Bryant’s dual-threat ability into the offense, particularly on third down, where Mizzou can still improve despite finishing last season ranked 18th nationally in conversion percentage.
On second thought, it probably won’t be all that interesting, because we already know. Tim Bussen did an excellent job of breaking down the X’s and O’s of Bryant’s impact on Dooley’s scheme with the eloquence of a gridiron virtuoso.
Bryant doesn’t have Drew Lock’s arm, but his feet, experience, and apparent ability to bond easily with and provide leadership to his teammates more than compensate.
Larry Rountree, who will lead a rotation of as many as four at the position, quietly goes about his business as one of the SEC’s best backs, and there should be enough depth — albeit largely inexperienced — at receiver and tight end to give Bryant plenty of options in the passing game.
Defensively, Mizzou’s a mixed bag of what-ifs and plug-and-play pieces. Jordan Elliott, Cale Garrett, DeMarkus Acy, and the duo of Joshuah Bledsoe and Tyree Gillespie provide stability and experience, and there’s optimism surrounding a number of juniors and underclassmen - including true freshmen - who are competing to fill open spots at each level of the defense.
The Tigers aren’t Bama or LSU on defense, but they don’t need to be. Finishing in the top 50 nationally in total defense – something Mizzou has not done since Odom’s final season as defensive coordinator in 2015 when they finished fifth – would go a long way. Anything better than that would be straight butter.
[I don’t really know what that last sentence means, but it sounds good, and I want my name etched in the annals of the RMN Insider’s Guide.]
So, what would a 10-win (or, dare I say 11-win) season look like?
Precisely, like this:
1. Mizzou whips Wyoming, West Virginia, SEMO, and Troy by an average of 25 points to go undefeated in non-conference; streak includes an eye-popping 35-point whooping of the Mountaineers to vault the Tigers into the Top 20 after week 2
2. Duo of Kelly Bryant and Larry Rountree runs over, around, and through the South Carolina defense as Tigers pound out 318 yards on the ground to exorcise the demons
3. Tigers wrap up five-game home stand with Homecoming win over Ole Miss as Albert O snatches three TDs; Jordan Elliot and an invigorated D-line Zou sack Rebel quarterback Matt Corral five times
4. In the ultimate trap game, the No. 17 Tigers struggle early against Vanderbilt defense but ride Jalen Knox’s three second-half scores to a win that’s too close for comfort
5. A week after its involvement in another brutal blown call costs Mizzou a win against Kentucky, the Tigers’ secondary picks off Jake Fromm three times as defense holds Georgia to its lowest offensive output of the season; Tigers crack Top 10 in rankings a day later
6. Only because it seems too fitting, Mizzou drops out of the Top 10 seven days later after losing to No. 15 Florida but regains its ranking the following Sunday after beating No. 25 Tennessee … 50-17 … for the third straight season
7. The Tigers blister the listless Hogs in Little Rock in the regular season finale thanks to 165 rushing yards from Rountree, who passes Zack Abron for sole possession of second place on the school’s all-time rushing list
8. Kelly Bryant finishes the season with 3,200 yards passing, another 900 rushing, and finishes 4th in the Heisman voting – bettering the storyline for a Mizzou/Bama rematch in the SEC Championship
9. The Tigers give the Tide a game through two and a half quarters, but Saban and the Bama D put the squeeze on Bryant and the offense in the fourth and pull away for 17-point win; effort is impressive enough for playoff committee to bestow Mizzou with Sugar Bowl berth against familiar foe: Oklahoma
10. In clash of high-profile senior transfer quarterbacks, Bryant and OU’s Jalen Hurts combine for seven touchdowns and more than 275 yards on the ground in wildly entertaining 45-40 Mizzou win; cap is effectively placed on top of 11-3 season, and Victory Whiskey is plentiful enough to flow well into spring practice
That was fun, right?
Sadly, I would be remiss -- and not very true to the Mizzou ethos -- if I didn’t balance all of this rosiness with some doomsday-like scenarios that I’m sure no Tiger fan would admit is too far-fetched (well, maybe a couple).
Without further ado, here’s the worst-case scenario for the 2019 season:
(For those who may be of the fair-weather, bandwagon fan variety, avert thy virgin eyes … it’s about to get harsh. The rest of us have been hardened to deal with the pain.)
1. Kelly Bryant, after throwing three touchdowns and running for another in the first half against Wyoming, tears a ligament in his right knee on a non-contact play and is ruled out for the season
2. Taylor Powell manages the second half of the Tigers’ season-opening win in Laramie but is intercepted four times as Mizzou fails to muster 250 yards of offense in a demoralizing 34-10 loss to rebuilding West Virginia
3. The curse continues: With almost no pass rush, Mizzou’s defense surrenders 600-plus yards to South Carolina, including 505 from senior quarterback Jake Bentley, loses by more than 21 points for second straight week; Barry Odom forced to deliver another “Dark Days” speech during post game press conference, but this one falls on deaf ears
4. Jordan Elliott, whose sack and four tackles for loss against South Carolina earn him SEC Defensive Player of the Week honors, slips while walking through the hydrotherapy lounge, located in the program’s new state-of-the-art south end zone facility, tearing his Achilles
5. Odom rallies the troops for consecutive wins versus Troy and against Ole Miss on Homecoming, but a crucial string of three consecutive road test starts with a thud as Vanderbilt running back Ke’Shawn Vaughn needs only 21 carries to tally 225 yards and ignite the Commodore upset, spoiling Jalen Knox’s career-high 187 receiving yards
6. The late-season surge Tiger fans have come to expect under Odom never materializes, as Mizzou somehow loses another last-second heartbreaker on a bogus penalty call against Kentucky and is stomped by 30 in Athens despite forcing four turnovers and getting 165 yards from Larry Rountree against the SEC’s top run defense
7. Tigers come up off the deck the following week against Florida, but the win comes at a cost as Powell separates his shoulder in the fourth quarter, forcing Odom to replace him with true freshman Connor Bazelak, who doesn’t have as nice of hair as Drew Lock at the same stage of his career, but still looks like a true freshman during mop-up duty
8. Tennessee and Arkansas – two teams that have been thoroughly manhandled for the better part of the last two seasons by the Tigers – account for consecutive shutouts of the Mizzou offense, which limps to the finish line a mere shell of its preseason self, averaging only 26 points per game – nearly 10 fewer than 2018
9. Barry Odom, fresh off a contract extension signed prior to the season, has some ‘splainin to do with AD Jim Sterk, who insists on knowing where his money is being spent; Odom counters with argument that a 5-7 team should receive revenue from Faurot alcohol sales to bolster recruiting resources
10. Odom has to come to the aid of his AD after Sterk gets knocked out by haymaker from his predecessor, Baylor AD Mack Rhoades, as benches clear in all-out brawl between the Tigers and Bears that no one gets to see during waning moments of Baylor’s 12-0 rout of MU in Autozone Liberty Bowl
There you have it. What say you?
Are we headed for four months of intoxicating bliss, playoff scenarios, Heisman chances, record-breaking performance, postseason honors, and, ultimately, perhaps the best season ever for Mizzou football?
Or, are we all just biding our time, waiting for what we Mizzou fans know all too well.