Expectations for Eli Drinkwitz’s Missouri Tigers will be sky high entering the 2024 season this fall. Be honest – I have Tiger fever right now, and I’m sure you do too. It is easy to dream on the returning talent, the coaching changeover in the SEC, the manageable schedule, the expanded playoff, the proven leadership in the program, and imagine the best Missouri season in ages. I am right there with you.
But good teams do fall short of expectations. While a playoff berth is in the range of possible outcomes for the Tigers, so is, say, a 7-5 record. How would you manage your emotional reaction to that?
It is entirely possible Missouri has a worse football season in 2024. A lack of coaching staff continuity on the defensive side of the ball could be fatal. That same defense loses a host of impact players to the NFL. The funny-shaped ball bounces weird ways sometimes, and maybe the Tigers don’t get those breaks. Maybe some important players suffer long-term injuries.
This upcoming season is going to be harder for fans to navigate than the last one, even if it is glorious and the team rises to the occasion by making the expanded playoff bracket. Rooting for a team with expectations is always far more stressful than rooting for one without.
2023 was such a joyride for the fanbase because even the most optimistic predictions were in the range of eight, maybe nine wins. Each successive week the Tigers toppled bigger and better foes in more impressive fashion; only the MTSU and Florida games were disappointing performances, and both ended as wins. The two losses were heartbreaking, but well-played games you could take solace in.
2024 is going to be a nail-biter. Any Saturday could end the dream. Drinkwitz’s teams don’t lay eggs, and they take care of business against lesser foes, but we will all let the negative intrusive thoughts creep in during the first three-and-out against Buffalo. I would encourage you not to be that person. Try to enjoy the ride, this era of Missouri football, even if the final win tally at the end of the season is a few short of what you hoped.
Jokes circulated online this week about Kalen DeBoer taking over for Nick Saban in Alabama. About how he will get fired if he only wins 11 games, how will he handle the crazy fanbase, how it will be impossible to follow the GOAT. And all of that is true, because Alabama fans can not handle expectations. Imagine winning 10 games a year in God’s own conference and NOT being satisfied. If Drink is elevating Missouri to a regular eight win team, with the occasional breakthroughs to double digits, we damn well better be able to collectively appreciate that.
This article is not doom-and-gloom about a season that is still eight months away and a roster that is not even fully constructed yet. Quite the opposite, in fact. I am not sure I have had as rosy an outlook about this program in almost a decade: check my bylines about Drink’s culture and roster building for what I think about his work at the helm.
This article is not for the people in the football building. It is for us, particularly those of us who post online about the Tigers, and are on the front lawn of Missouri fandom. The coach and player mindset needs to be geared to winning a national championship. The fan’s mindset should be optimistic about the program, but equipped to handle short-term disappointment if it arrives.
In the beginning of his epic Western novel Blood Meridian, Cormac McCarthy writes of a world-weary prophet warning the traveling war party at the center of the story: “There is no such joy in the tavern as on the road thereto.”
Unlike 2023, the season might be injury-marred, or end with a bad loss. Each week’s game is going to feel more and more pressure-packed in a way that did not suffocate the 2023 (or 2013, or 2007) seasons. So find your joy on the road. Appreciate how Drink has elevated the talent acquisition, and Missouri’s profile in St Louis and Kansas City recruiting hotbeds. Appreciate the pre-season love the team is going to get from national media. Take time to smell the proverbial roses, because the magic of the storybook Something To Prove season will not be repeated, even if the results are.