It is very, very difficult to consistently win in the Southeastern Conference.
That’s an obvious statement. But, the SEC makes up for that (to the dismay of every other conference) with four non-conference games per season as opposed to three, lightening the load of its members. The conference recently announced that it would be continuing with its eight-game slate in 2024 even with the additions of Oklahoma and Texas, although discussions are taking place about moving to nine games in 2025.
What makes life in the SEC much more difficult is not being able to win 3-4 of those non-conference games each season. Since joining the SEC, Missouri has struggled to start seasons off on solid footing, and those missteps have greatly hindered the team upon entering conference play. In 2012 and 2016, key non-con losses prevented the Tigers from reaching postseason play.
While the overall non-conference record looks respectable, the timing and quality of opponent in the losses weighs heavily. At the end of the day, there are not many teams that Mizzou has faced in non-conference play that it was not better than on paper in the past 10 years. To get over the hump of mediocrity, Drinkwitz and co. need to master going 4-0/3-0 outside of SEC play year-in and year-out.
From the abysmal loss to Wyoming in 2019 to somehow falling to Indiana in 2014, the Tigers have had their fair share of issues in playing outside of the SEC. Let’s take a deeper dive into that notion and look at what needs to change for the program to consistently pick up four victories in non-conference play.
Non-Conference Records Since Joining the SEC
2012: 3-1 (Wins over SELA, Arizona State, UCF; Lost to Syracuse)
2013: 4-0 (Wins over Murray State, Toledo, Indiana, Arkansas State)
2014: 3-1 (Wins over So. Dakota State, Toledo, UCF; Lost to Indiana)
2015: 4-0 (Wins over SEMO, Arkansas State, UConn, BYU)
2016: 2-2 (Wins over EMU, Delaware State; Losses to WVU, MTSU)
2017: 3-1 (Wins over MO State, Idaho, UConn; Lost to Purdue)
2018: 4-0 (Wins over UT-Martin, Wyoming, Purdue, Memphis)
2019: 3-1 (Wins over WVU, SEMO, Troy; Lost to Wyoming)
2021: 3-1 (Wins over CMU, SEMO, UNT; Lost to Boston College)
2022: 3-1 (Wins over LA Tech, ACU, NMSU; Lost to Kansas State)
Gary Pinkel: 14-2*
Barry Odom: 12-4
Eliah Drinkwitz: 6-2
*During his time in the SEC
Most Disappointing Losses
- Indiana 31 | No. 18 Missouri 27 (Sept. 20, 2014)
The 2014 run to the SEC title game was not nearly as pretty as the 2013 run, and it hit its low point with this result. The Hoosiers ending up finishing 4-8 (1-7) this season, but they played their best game of the year at Faurot. Tevin Coleman’s 132 yards and one touchdown led the way for IU despite his team converting only one of their 14 (!) third down attempts in this game.
In the end, the contrast in offensive styles made the difference in this game. Mizzou was more than happy to air things out, with Maty Mauk throwing for a season-high 331 yards, while Indiana chose to pound away on the ground. In a back-and-forth game, the Hoosiers got the last laugh with a D’Angelo Roberts touchdown scamper with 22 seconds left to seal the deal.
This started an odd couple of weeks for Mizzou. Gary Pinkel’s team went on the road to upset No. 13 South Carolina the next week, but they returned home after a bye to be throttled by No. 13 Georgia 34-0. Of course, the team would not lose another game until the SEC Championship against Alabama, so maybe the early season struggles helped in the long-run.
2. Wyoming 37 | Missouri 31 (August 31, 2019)
Kelly Bryant was set to be the heir to Drew Lock’s quarterback throne. The Clemson transfer had just led those other Tigers to an ACC title and CFP appearance, and many thought he could provide a spark to the Tiger offense with his legs and experience in playing at a high level.
His time at Mizzou could not have gotten off to a rockier start. Bryant did throw for a season-high 423 yards, but that came as a result of Mizzou trailing for much of the game. After jumping out to a 14-0 lead in the first quarter and appearing to be set to run away with this one, Mizzou gave up 17 straight points in the second quarter and Wyoming went on a 34-3 run between the beginning of the second quarter and the ending of the third.
The Tigers attempted to rally late, but they did have enough in the tank. Multiple long touchdown runs from the Cowboys and three costly Missouri turnovers saw the visitors leave Laramie, WY shell-shocked. Surprisingly, Mizzou won five straight games after that…before proceeding to lose five straight.
3. Middle Tennessee State 51 | Missouri 45 (Oct. 22, 2016)
In my eyes, this was the rock bottom moment for the Missouri defense in the 2010s. A heartbreaking early season loss to Georgia seemed to crush the 2016 squad’s hopes, as they were throttled for much of SEC play.
Following two non-competitive losses to LSU and Florida, the 2-4 Tigers hoped to get back on track with a win over MTSU. The Blue Raiders, who would finish the season at 8-5, had other ideas. They marched into Faurot Field and ran for 311 yards on an SEC defense, and Brent Stockstill balanced the offense out with 280 passing yards and four touchdowns. Drew Lock, Damarea Crockett and Ish Witter countered with impressive showings of their own, but after neither team could be stopped in the first half, the game went scoreless for the final 6:16, resulting in a signature win for MTSU.
This result further sent the Tigers into a spiral, as they lost to Kentucky and South Carolina after this game.
What 2023 Presents…and Who Lies Ahead in the Future
Again, while the record does not look horrible, it does not lend to the success that Missouri fans are hoping for. This program has a razor thin margin for error every season, and carelessly losing non-conference games to inferior opponents or being blown out in important swing games has killed early season momentum for this team plenty of times.
The slate for 2023 is simultaneously manageable and tricky. South Dakota is a middling FCS program and should be of little issue (*knocks on wood*). Although MTSU has won in Columbia before, this is a far better Mizzou team than it played in 2016.
From there, things heat up. A rematch with Kansas State is in the cards, and one could argue that this is one of the two or three most important games on Missouri’s schedule. Of course, there is a revenge factor in this game, as well as recruiting implications, but most of all, this is a “prove it” game for Drinkwitz and this team. A victory over a quality Wildcat team would garner some respect for the 2023 squad while silencing many of Drinkwitz’ doubters, showing that his program has made progress since last season.
Following that swing game, Missouri will venture to St. Louis for the “Mizzou to the Lou” series against Memphis. The Tigers from Tennessee are no pushover, as they always seem to field some explosive offensive talent and challenge Power Five foes. On top of that, putting forth a good showing in STL is imperative for a Missouri program that is attempting to lock down the state’s borders in recruiting and command respect from its fans to the East.
Starting out this season 4-0 will be no easy task, but I would argue that, for this year to be considered a success and Drinkwitz to keep his job, it is imperative. With the amount of swing games on the slate during SEC competition, Missouri will need every win it can get early on to create some momentum and keep the fan base and players believing in what the team can accomplish.
Who knows, if the Tigers manage to start a flawless 4-0 and then take down Vandy in Nashville, there may be a shiny number next to their name when they take on LSU in COMO on Oct. 7…but let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
Instead, let’s look waaaayyyy further ahead.
As for what the future non-conference opponents look like, there’s a couple of names that Mizzou fans may recognize. Boston College will make the return trip to Faurot in 2024, and the Border War makes its much-anticipated return to the gridiron in 2025 in Columbia. In 2026, Mizzou will get a shot at both border rivals Kansas and Illinois, with both games taking place away from home.
2027 sees the Tigers go west for a date with San Diego State before hosting Illinois. The Fighting Illini make an appearance on the schedule in 2028, ‘29, ‘32, ‘33, ‘34 and ‘35, while Kansas pops up for another home-and-home in ‘31 and ‘32. Missouri also has a home-and-home set up with Deion Sanders’ Colorado Buffaloes in ‘30 and ‘31.