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Missouri’s season-opener is a chance to capitalize on offseason fan optimism

Mizzou’s lost fan support far too quickly in recent years. This is Eli Drinkwitz’s opportunity to reverse that trend.

Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports

First impressions are everything, and Missouri’s first impression in recent years has been lousy.

The “Show Me State” tends to need to see it first, and then the support comes next. You know what I’m talking about. You’ve seen what it’s like at Kauffman, Arrowhead or Busch when your favorite team is winning. And, well, you’ve also seen it at those respective stadiums when they’re not.

This state will support a winner. It gives a collective shrug of its shoulders when there’s no real reason for faith.

Missouri has started the season 2-0 just once since 2015. That’s a stretch of six seasons in which the Tigers lost a sizable portion of their audience within the first two weeks of the year, almost every year.

Let’s take a trip in the way back machine, shall we?

The date is September 3, 2016. Missouri is on the road at West Virginia. Drew Lock is starting at quarterback, Barry Odom is making his head coaching debut at Missouri and the defense is coming off one of its best years in program history. The Mountaineers are up 20-3 less than 35 minutes into the game. Missouri never really had a chance. The team starts 0-1. Momentum halted.

That was the start of a trend. Missouri started 2017 with a win, but the Tigers allowed 43 points against Missouri State. Not exactly an encouraging sign for the defense. Defensive coordinator Demontie Cross was fired nine days later after Mizzou lost 31-13 at home against South Carolina. Two weeks in, a 1-1 record, and the momentum was already gone. 2019 was more of the same with a stunning season-opening loss on the road at Wyoming. 2020 was a strange year, but optimism waned after an 0-2 start against Alabama and Tennessee. Last season’s heartbreaker once again came in week two when Kentucky ran for more than 300 yards against Steve Wilks’ defensive unit.

Long story short, Missouri’s first two weeks of the season have led to decreased fan support since Gary Pinkel’s tenure in Columbia came to an end. It’s a disappointing trend that needs to come to an end this season.

Eli Drinkwitz and Desiree Reed-Francois have - I believe, smartly - altered the opening week plans. Missouri will now open its season on a Thursday night against Louisiana Tech. It’s the first time Mizzou’s played on a weeknight at Faurot Field since 2015. The hope is a primetime game on Thursday going into Labor Day weekend will lead to stronger attendance. We’ll see if it works, but it’s an out-of-the-box plan I can get behind.

The results on the field are more important, though, than the butts in the stands. Louisiana Tech stinks. This is a game Missouri should win handily. It’s a game it needs to win, regardless. The season really begins in week two, again, when Missouri travels to Manhattan to take on Kansas State. Chris Klieman has built K-State into a really solid program once again. That’s a peer program for the Tigers. It’s the swing-iest of all swing games. The Tigers lost those types of games early in the season over the last six years against West Virginia, South Carolina, Wyoming, Tennessee and Kentucky.

There’s a sense of optimism surrounding Eli Drinkwitz’s program this offseason. That’ll happen when you put together two of the best recruiting classes in program history in back-to-back years. The recruiting ranks are fun. They matter. But now is the time to start showing the results.

Starting the season on a Thursday should be fun. Starting the season with a 2-0 record is what’s been missing. Is this the team to get over the hump?