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All wins are not created equal. A win against Abilene Christian carries less weight than a win at Auburn, for example. The same is true for Missouri’s remaining schedule. The Tigers should beat Vanderbilt and New Mexico State. Those should be the third and fourth wins of the season. Playing at South Carolina is never easy, but that should be the other most likely victory for this team. And if the Tigers able to put together those three wins, they would need one more to get to bowl eligibility.
This is where we get back to those wins that carry some weight.
Missouri’s remaining schedule offers four opportunities for something resembling a signature win for Eli Drinkwitz in the 2022 season. Such a victory could have taken place on the road at Auburn or at home last week against Georgia. Obviously, neither finished as Missouri fans would have hoped.
So, which of these games is most likely to swing in Missouri’s direction: at Florida, at home against Florida, at Tennessee or at home against Arkansas?
I’ll be honest, I’m a bit surprised by the results. I don’t agree with the assessment that Kentucky is the most likely upset for the Tigers. The Wildcats have a dynamite defense, a stud quarterback who throws for nearly 10 yards per attempt against the blitz, and a running game that should be on the up-and-up with Chris Rodriguez Jr. back in the lineup.
The game is played at home, sure, and Missouri’s history against Kentucky includes some very close games, but this Kentucky team is ranked 15th in SP+, roughly 15 spots ahead of the two teams I believe Missouri has the best chance to upset.
The other team I outright reject in this conversation is Tennessee. The Vols, for the first time in a long time, are a legitimate threat in the SEC. I don’t believe their top-10 ranking is fraudulent. Josh Heupel’s team has 13 30+ yard pass plays so far this season; Ohio State is the lone power five team with more. The Vols have scored a touchdown on 19 of their 22 red zone attempts this season, good for the second best red zone touchdown rate among power five teams with at least 20 red zone opportunities (Ohio State, 92 percent). So, to recap, Tennessee creates explosives and finishes their drives. Oh, and they have a Heisman candidate at quarterback who creates with both his arm and his legs. That’s the exact kind of combination Missouri would have a tough time keeping up with. The Tigers simply don’t have that kind of firepower.
This leaves me with two options: Florida and Arkansas.
I’ve gone back and forth all week while thinking about which game is more likely for Missouri to win. On one hand, the Tigers get Arkansas at home while playing Florida on the road. That’s a mark in Arkansas’ direction considering Eli Drinkwitz’s teams are a combined 11-5 at home, while having a paltry 2-11 record on the road (at Vanderbilt and at South Carolina in the pandemic 2020 season). On the other hand, Florida is basically Missouri’s peer team with a worse defense and a quarterback who creates more explosive plays.
I truly believe Missouri - at something resembling full strength - has close to a 50/50 shot of beating Florida. That’s how close I believe these teams are. Missouri has a linebacker in Ty’Ron Hopper who should be able to play a “spy” role well agains Anthony Richardson, and a defense that has a knack for preventing long plays (seven 30+ yard gains allowed this season).
Former Gaffney Indian Ty’Ron Hopper (T-Hop) comes up with a big sack for Mizzou in their game vs. Auburn.— Nick (@RonnysKid32) September 25, 2022
He finished the game with 10 tackles, 1 sack, and 3 tackles for loss.@GaffneyFootball @Gaffney_History #GaffneyAlumni pic.twitter.com/Es21p14ysu
Unfortunately, it does not appear Missouri will be at full strength against Florida. Dominic Lovett is, at best, going into this game hobbled, and at worst he might miss the game all-together. That’s a big deal. Lovett currently leads the SEC in receptions (27), receiving yards (470), receptions of 20+ yards (9) and receptions of 30+ yards (5). To put those numbers in context, every other Missouri wide receiver - COMBINED - has 45 receptions for 433 yards and one touchdown. Moral of the story, Lovett has accounted for more than 50 percent of Missouri’s wide receiver production.
MIZZOU!!!! Dominic Lovett with a ridiculous 39 yard sideline catch!! pic.twitter.com/jQTk2f12az— @ (@FTBeard7) September 24, 2022
Not having Lovett is a very, very big deal. But Florida is still my choice.
Arkansas features many of the same “pros” on offense as Florida. The Razorbacks have a do-it-all quarterback and a group of pass-catchers that lacks a true number one threat. However, the Razorbacks also have two things Florida lacks: 1) A legitimate star running back in Raheim “Rocket” Sanders and 2) a defense with the ability to create havoc.
I say all of that to say this: If Missouri is going to come up with an upset down the stretch to reach bowl eligibility, it will likely come on Saturday in The Swamp. Billy Napier is a good football coach. He’s going to get Florida turned around. But this team is not what it was cracked up to be. This has the potential to be for Drinkwitz what the win against LSU was in 2020; a win that feels big at the time that looking back might have been a bit overhyped. And you know what? Nobody cares. It felt big. It built momentum for a program that lacked any. A win in Gainesville would make the last two weeks feel like progress despite both games resulting in a loss.
MIZZOU HOLDS LSU ON THE 1-YARD LINE ‼️ pic.twitter.com/29dkNOa3fg— ESPN College Football (@ESPNCFB) October 10, 2020
If Missouri wins this weekend, it has a real chance to go on a 3-game winning streak, with the Kentucky game suddenly feeling like a “big” game in Columbia.
This team felt lifeless after the Kansas State loss. Suddenly, there’s hope again. A win on Saturday would go a long way in building more excitement for what the rest of he season could bring. If I could predict any one upset the rest of the season, it would be this weekend. I also think a win on Saturday could provide exactly the spark this team needs to believe it’s capable of more.
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