Narratives are a funny thing. They start early, and once we go down a certain path, it’s hard to stop the snowball from rolling down the hill.
For example - did you know Peyton Manning finished his career with a winning record in the playoffs against Tom Brady? It’s true. He was 3-2 in the playoffs against the G.O.A.T. But Manning started 0-6 against the New England Patriots. He was labeled as a quarterback who couldn’t win the big one, and there was no getting away from that.
Shaping the narrative is important. The Brady & Manning rivalry was shaped by those early matchups.
ElI Drinkwitz has his first opportunity to shape his narrative this week.
Missouri was never going to beat Alabama. That was an unrealistic expectation. However, it’s not completely outlandish to believe the Tigers could pull off an upset in Knoxville.
Mizzou comes into the game as a 12-point underdog. It’s the type of win Barry Odom couldn’t add to his resume early in his tenure. Odom was 0-4 in his first two years against ranked opponents. Only one of those four games was decided by seven points or less.
The losses against quality opponents piled up. Mizzou fans grew increasingly unsatisfied by wins against lesser teams. The trend continued.
And here we are today. This is Drinkwitz’s first opportunity to do what Odom couldn’t.
To pull off an upset. To win a game that gives the fanbase some hope and belief that things are trending in the right direction. To do what Matt Campbell did at Iowa State and to do what Jeff Brohm did at Purdue.
Brohm was 0-3 against ranked opponents in his first year at Purdue, but his team was within one score in the fourth quarter of all three matchups. Brohm followed that up by finishing 3-0 against ranked opponents in his second year at Purdue with wins against Boston College, Ohio State and Iowa. Purdue fans were energized. The program felt like it was heading in the right direction. The national narrative was set.
The same was true for Campbell at Iowa State. He finished 0-3 against top 25 opponents in his first year as the Cyclones’ head coach, but his team had a lead in the 4th quarter against West Virginia and they found themselves down just one score against Oklahoma midway through the fourth quarter. In year two, Iowa State went 3-1 against top 25 opponents with wins at Oklahoma, at home against TCU & Oklahoma State, and in the bowl game against Memphis.
The narrative, once again, was set. Fans locally and nationally viewed Purdue and Iowa State as teams with up-and-coming coaches who would eventually become sought after by power programs.
Odom was never able to achieve that at Missouri. It felt like the Tigers’ seasons became predictable and stale. The “easy” wins weren’t so easy. When Missouri was a heavy underdog, it felt as if there was rarely much of a reason to watch.
Drinkwitz was a master at setting his own narrative throughout the offseason. He surprised everyone with his recruiting prowess. He energized this fanbase through a global pandemic. That was the start. Showing the ability to really compete against a top 25 opponent like Tennessee is how you take the next step.
Campbell and Brohm were able to do it. Odom wasn’t. Time’s yours, Drink.