We’ve spent so much time talking about how friendly the Missouri schedule is that it feels like we forgot to appreciate its tidiness.
Twelve games. Three groups. Four games each.
In theory, the groups of games get harder over time, allowing the Tigers to progressively lead into the hardest part of their schedule before getting an admittedly soft landing. The average SP+ rankings of Missouri’s 12 games are as follows.
Wyoming, West Virginia, SEMO, South Carolina: 74.75
Troy, Ole Miss, Vanderbilt, Kentucky: 72.75
Georgia, Florida, Tennessee, Arkansas: 37.5
The precise nature of this schedule allows for neat and tidy narratives to be packaged and delivered to you on this here website. After four games? The Tigers are good, but still looking to prove themselves as more. After eight? Now that’s a question worth asking.
The widespread expectation for the 2019 Tigers was, at the bare minimum, nine wins. Without conducting an accurate poll with FiveThirtyEight-approved sample audiences, it’s probably fair to say a lot of Tiger fans had their hopes set on double-digit wins, whether they come in the regular season or by way of reinstated bowl eligibility. The first third of the season has done nothing — HA, well OK, not nothing — to dissuade fans from that expectation. After a violently upsetting loss in Laramie, the Tigers have looked every bit like a dangerous, well-balanced team that could make noise near the top of the SEC East.
However, for as much as we like to abuse the words, “favorable,” and, “schedule,” on this site — every time you say one, a Jayhawk gets hit with a Level I recruiting violation! — they truly do define this season of Missouri football. Just look at the SEC West, where teams with comparable talent to Missouri will likely finish 7-5 (or worse) by virtue of running up against Alabama, Auburn and LSU, plus second-tier teams like A&M or even Mississippi State. Missouri, for all of its virtues, is fortunate to avoid that gauntlet, instead grazing on the soft underbelly of the SEC, home to backup quarterbacks and teams coached by Derek Mason.
After another weekend of college football, one which allowed us to take in the landscape a bit more, we know a few more things about how this already-favorable schedule: two to be exact. The first is that there are only two teams left that can make reasonable claims to being better than Missouri. One of them will get Missouri on the road. The other will travel to Columbia.
The second is that Missouri has likely already played (and badly beaten) the third-best team on its schedule. After being pummeled by the Tigers in Better Columbia, South Carolina took out its frustrations on Sawyer Smith and Kentucky, allowing just over 200 yards of offense en route to a 24-7 win. The Gamecocks may not be a great football team, but they certainly aren’t a bad one. And Missouri made them look awfully bad.
If we take these two factors into consideration, the truth of the matter is this: Missouri should only lose two more games on the season, and that’s if you’re counting Florida as an automatic loss at home (which you shouldn’t.) Of course, you might say, “They should’ve beaten Wyoming and look what happened!” You wouldn’t be wrong. Just because a team should win doesn’t mean they will win. It’s a rule as fundamental to sports as cheating is to... alright, you know where I’m going with this. No need to grasp the low-hanging fruit.
So as the Tigers move on from their first bye week and into the second third of their schedule, they have a golden opportunity to secure the narrative of the 2019 season. With the season-opening loss squarely in the distance, a 4-0 run through October would bring the team’s chances of getting at least nine wins to near certainty. Even then, two losses wouldn’t cast too much shade on what would become only the sixth team in the past 50 years of the program to reach nine wins or more. That’s rarified air for the program, no matter what the schedule.
The next four games have the potential to define the 2019 Tigers forever. Win out and you’re nearly guaranteed a special season. Drop one or more, and it’s likely another offseason spent wondering what could’ve been.