It’s the 2022 CFP National Championship game. Kelee Ringo has just picked off Bryce Young.
Times were about to change.
Georgia has been here in recent years; they made the title game in 2018 and won it in 1980. But in the 40+ years since, they’d never been here. As Ringo embarked on the most glorious 79-yard run of his football career, the path to a national title had both literally and figuratively never been clearer for the Bulldogs.
As Ringo crossed the goal-line to clinch Georgia’s place atop the summit of Mount College Football, Chris Fowler put the glass ceiling that’d been broken into words.
“Georgia is gonna conquer the Crimson Tide!”
On a lesser scale, Mizzou was on a similar path as Ringo was, just one that wasn’t as obvious. The Tigers had been to Athens plenty of times before. But they’d never been to Athens like this.
A win over those mighty Bulldogs would open up a world of possibilities (in UGA’s case, they became the possibility with Ringo’s pick-six). For Mizzou, the Bulldogs were their Crimson Tide; they’d get over a hump they’d never gotten over before (Mizzou is 0-18 against the top-ranked team in the AP poll). The path to a national title would be a lot clearer. Georgia, who’d been the most dominant team in college football for two seasons and had lost one home game since 2017, would fall. National attention on the Tigers would skyrocket, something that’d happened to only the best Mizzou teams to ever grace the black and gold. Times could certainly change.
Instead, most everything remained the same.
It was frustrating. Mizzou was right there. Sure, the refereeing was certainly questionable. But the Tigers committed too many self-inflicted errors, an absolute no-no against a team of Georgia’s caliber. Like many instances in the past, Mizzou came up short, and Georgia came out on top. Saturday proved that just because you can see the mountaintop doesn’t mean you’re guaranteed to get there.
However, take a pause. Let’s look at the bigger picture.
Silver linings don’t shine very bright, but they can’t be ignored. The Tigers put up a fight that few teams have in Sanford Stadium over the past five seasons and change. They were hanging with a team who, despite their mortality looking higher than the previous two seasons, were still rolling. Mizzou’s front seven was a huge reason why Georgia’s brick wall of an offensive line had their worst performance of the season. Most importantly, however, the Tigers showed that they can compete with the top teams in the country.
The path to a national title has unfortunately closed. However, Mizzou can follow a path that, while less fun than the alternative, can still lead to immense success.
A couple of the best Mizzou teams ever have gone down this path. The 2007 and 2013 squads both had legitimate national title aspirations late in the season, but couldn’t win the big game that would’ve propelled them there. The 2007 team got smacked in the Big 12 Championship by Oklahoma, and the 2013 team got blitzed by Auburn in the SEC Championship.
But guess what? Both teams started the season unranked, had a handful of signature moments, ended with double-digit wins and capped off the year with a bowl victory. The likes of Chase Daniel, James Franklin, Henry Josey and many others are talked about fondly and will forever be enshrined in Mizzou football lore.
If we expand the scope to all of college football, there are a boatload of other teams that fall into this category. 1993 Wisconsin. 2014 TCU. 2016 Penn State. All teams that, despite not achieving the level of success they could’ve at some point during the season, provided everlasting memories for fans amidst seasons that blew expectations out of the water.
However, a perfect example can be found with…Kansas. That 2007 team whose lasting image to 99.9% of Mizzou fans is Todd Reesing defeatedly pulling turf out of his facemask? That team won double-digit games for just the third time in school history, took Mizzou to the wire and beat a very good Virginia Tech squad in the Orange Bowl for the school’s first BCS bowl victory. Forget the fact that their schedule was weak and whether they should’ve even been in a BCS bowl in the first place. The 2007 team took the Jayhawks to heights previously unexplored; despite the maddening loss to their arch-rival, it was still a wildly successful season for Mark Mangino’s crew.
Finally, here’s an Eli Drinkwitz quote from last Tuesday that was proactively sobering whether Mizzou ended up winning or losing.
“There’s gonna be two different narratives. The narrative is gonna be that, if we lost, the season’s over, and there’s nothing left to play for because of what was at stake in the game, which we know is not true,” Drinkwitz said. “And if we win, we’re gonna be assumed that we’re gonna win the East, which is not true because we still have three games left versus SEC opponents. Regardless of the outcome of the game, the job of the media and social media is to create narratives. Our job is to ignore them and try to be 1-0.”
That’s the best thing Mizzou can do going forward: go 1-0 every week. If they do that the rest of the way, they’ll finish 11-2 with a bowl victory that’ll likely be of the New Year’s Six variety.
I repeat. If Mizzou runs the table, they will finish 11-2 with a bowl victory that’ll likely be of the New Year’s Six variety. If we polled 100 Mizzou fans before the season and asked if they’d be happy with an 11-2 season, anything less than 100 yeses would be stunning.
Saturday’s result halted a trip to the moon. However, the Tigers can still land amongst the stars, a destination that many would’ve bought a ticket for back in August.