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Revisiting what the ‘ceiling’ looks like at Mizzou

Is Missouri a better job now than it was 10 years ago?

NCAA Football: South Carolina at Missouri Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

I’ve been guilty of it. You’ve probably been thinking about it, too. It was hard to ignore given the news of the weekend.

“What happens if Texas A&M comes calling?”

They have money to throw around, a fertile recruiting ground, and a fanbase few can match. That’s a compelling job. It’s the type of job that could attract a heck of a coaching candidate. Maybe one like Eli Drinkwitz.

But should it? Setting aside the obvious questions of if Drinkwitz would even be a candidate at Texas A&M, or whether or not he would be interested in taking such a job... should he? It’s something I think we should take a step back to consider. And I don’t think the answer is quite as obvious as it might appear on the surface.

When I thought about this in the abstract, my initial reaction was, “Well, of course you jump at that opportunity.” The money in College Station is endless. The football team basically recruits itself into the top 10-15 nationally every season. Kyle Field is among the tougher places to play in the country when things are going well for the Aggies. But is it actually a good job? The Aggies have failed to finish the season ranked in the AP Poll in seven of the past nine seasons. They have won double-digit games once in the past 25 seasons. The last time they won double-digit games in consecutive seasons was 1993-1994.

That’s the program that hopes to attract the best and brightest coaches from across college football? Money talks, sure, but would you want to coach at a place where the expectation every single season is to win double-digit games, and where that’s only happened twice in the past 25 years? Seems risky, no?

This brings us back to Mizzou. Thinking about Mizzou got me to thinking about why so many view Texas A&M as a higher-upside job than Missouri. And, to be frank, it probably still is. The money is a real factor. The historical nature of the fanbase, the stadium, etc. should not be completely discredited. But at some point, success has to matter. And Texas A&M simply has not had very many “peak” seasons in my lifetime.

Meanwhile, Mizzou has had those seasons. Recently. Hell, it’s potentially in the midst of one RIGHT NOW. The money has probably never been greater at Mizzou than it is right now. The NIL opportunities are competitive against even some of the top programs nationally. Players like Luther Burden III and Williams Nwaneri have spurned nationally relevant programs to stay home and earn big money while playing for the Tigers. Mizzou has shown it can “punch up” in the SEC under multiple coaching staffs. It’s in the best conference in America with reasonable expectations from its fans.

All of this seems like a pretty cush gig, right?

In thinking about this, I wondered if I’ve discounted the ceiling of what Missouri can be as a program. I’ve always thought of Mizzou in 4-year segments. I think a “successful” 4-year stretch would include one ceiling season with 10+ wins, another strong season with 8-9 wins and then a couple of seasons with 6-7 wins depending on how the non-conference slate is set up. That’s a respectable program. It’s not Alabama or Georgia. But it’s solid. Avoid the lean years and have a spike year for every graduating class. That should be the goal.

When things were going well under Gary Pinkel, that’s exactly what this program did. Things got lean there for a few years under Barry Odom. There were mitigating factors, sure, but it got tough. It took a little while for Drinkwitz to get Missouri back on track, but it’s back on the rails now and it’s once again proving to be a threat in the SEC.

This, again, is not new. Missouri has quietly been one of the best teams at producing “spike years” in the SEC since 2013.

Don’t believe me? How about this: Did you know the only SEC programs with more than TWO 10+ win regular seasons since 2013 are Alabama and Georgia? Missouri has a chance to add its name to that list if it wins the next two weeks.

LSU, Florida, Auburn and Ole Miss have two 10+ win seasons since 2013. Ole Miss, like Mizzou, could add a third if it wins out. Tennessee, South Carolina and Mississippi State have won double-digit regular season games once since 2013. Kentucky, Texas A&M, Arkansas and Vanderbilt have not done so a single time.

10+ Win Regular Seasons by the SEC

Team 10+ Win Regular Seasons since 2013
Team 10+ Win Regular Seasons since 2013
Alabama 11
Georgia 6
Mizzou 2 (3 if they win out)
Ole Miss 2 (3 if they win out)
Florida 2
Auburn 2
Tennessee 1
South Carolina 1
Mississippi State 1
Kentucky 0
Arkansas 0
Texas A&M 0
Vanderbilt 0

So, hold on, Missouri might do three times in a decade what Texas A&M, Tennessee and Arkansas have combined to do once and I’m supposed to believe Mizzou doesn’t have any kind of ceiling as a program?

I used to believe that. I think it was a belief that the program was more built on the success of Gary Pinkel than it was built on the success of “Missouri football.” I’m not sure that’s the case at this point. Mizzou has a lot going for itself. The facilities have been upgraded. The NIL packages are there. The recruiting is taking off. The transfer portal adds a new wrinkle to team-building, and it’s been a massive piece to the puzzle for the Tigers.

Missouri might be in the middle of a “spike year.” I’ve been saying it all year — these kind of seasons don’t come along very often at Mizzou. But they almost never come along at other SEC schools not named Alabama and Georgia.

Maybe it’s time we reconsider what the ceiling looks like at Mizzou.