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A number that should give Mizzou fans optimism about the Tigers’ outlook for the 2020 football season

It’s not all rainbows and butterflies for Mizzou football heading into 2020, but one ranking system doesn’t expect the bottom to fall out in Eli Drinkwitz’s debut season.

Missouri v Arkansas Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

There’s an old saying that happiness equals reality minus expectations. That was the problem for Mizzou football in 2019, and it could be the program’s saving grace in 2020.

A six-win season isn’t the end of the world at Mizzou. Not most years, anyway. But last season the expectations were higher than that. Tigers fans expected to see a minimum of eight wins, and 10 wins wasn’t out of the question. When the season went south, the reality became far worse than even the worst possible expectations.

Happiness suffered. And Barry Odom was fired as a result of those expectations.

The opposite could be true next season. Expectations aren’t exactly high for Mizzou football as we shift directions toward 2020. The Tigers will have a new quarterback. Three of the best (if not the three best) defensive players will need to be replaced. The coaching staff, despite showing obvious promise, is a question mark. The expectation should be six wins. Anything more would be seen as a success for Eli Drinkwitz in his debut season in Columbia.

A new projection system should give Mizzou fans hope that a better season than expected is at least in play.

Bill Connelly’s way-too-early 2020 SP+ rankings debuted on Thursday, and the Tigers debut as the 49th ranked team in the country. Connelly’s rankings have the Tigers as the 108th best offense, and the 18th best defense. Those rankings may not seem impressive on the surface, but when compared to the schedule, they present an argument in favor of a better-than-expected season.

The Tigers’ opponents in 2020 and their initial SP+ ranking: Central Arkansas (Not Ranked), Vanderbilt (101), at South Carolina (35), Eastern Michigan (116), at Tennessee (19), at BYU (53), Georgia (4), Kentucky (28), at Mississippi State (43), at Florida (7), Louisiana (51) & Arkansas (76).

If Mizzou were to beat every team on the schedule the Tigers are ranked ahead of, they would finish the season with a 6-6 record.

If you break it down further, the schedule seems to fit into three tiers:

Must win games (4): Central Arkansas, Vanderbilt, Eastern Michigan & Arkansas

Toss-Up games (5): South Carolina, BYU, Kentucky, Mississippi State & Louisiana

Likely losses (3): Tennessee, Georgia, Florida

Missouri’s season will be defined by what it does in the five toss-up games. And if we’re being honest, it’ll be determined by what the Tigers do against BYU and Louisiana. It’s one thing to lose on the road against South Carolina or Mississippi State. It’s another thing entirely to lose at home against Louisiana or anywhere against BYU.

Is that fair to Louisiana or BYU? No. Of course not. But fair ain’t got nothing to do with it.

There’s reason to believe Mizzou can exceed expectations in Drinkwitz’s first year. The new SP+ rankings spell it out pretty clearly. The upcoming season is going to be defined by winning the games you’re supposed to win, and finding a way to hold the fort against programs it would hurt to see Mizzou lose against.

Very few fanbases are legitimately happy at the end of any college football season. This year has the potential to be different for Mizzou. The bar has been set pretty low. It’s up to Drinkwitz and his players to rise above it.