I can sense it. The anticipation just isn’t what it was against Georgia. You can probably feel it, too. It’s not that you don’t care. Of course you do. It just doesn’t have the same buzz as it did a week ago.
I’m talking about this football game the Tigers are preparing to play against Tennessee. The Vols arrive in town with a 7-2 record after beating up on (mostly) average opponents. Tennessee’s best win this season is... a one-score win at home against Texas A&M? This is not meant to suggest the Vols aren’t good. Hot damn are they good at certain things. Good luck running against this defense, and Tennessee has quickly transitioned from one of the best passing offenses in the country to one of the best rushing offenses in the country.
This team is good. It’s Georgia-lite in many ways.
This just isn’t Georgia week. It doesn’t carry the same stakes. The momentum that carried the Tigers into Athens is still there, but instead of the excitement levels rating off the charts, it’s closer to a 7 or an 8 on a scale of 1-10.
There’s nothing wrong with that. It’s understandable. Opportunities like that come around once every 5-10 years — and that’s if you’re lucky. But it’s time to turn the page. This team still has plenty to play for, even if the stakes aren’t what they were last week.
First of all, Missouri has a chance to finish the season with just two losses. The only times in the last fifty years Missouri lost two or fewer games in a season were the two seasons you probably remember most fondly — 2007 and 2013. Recent history suggests if the Tigers are able to accomplish such a feat, they will finish the season ranked in the top 10.
SEC teams to finish the season with two losses since Mizzou joined the conference in 2012:
- 2012: #5 Georgia, #5 Texas A&M, #8 South Carolina, #9 Florida
- 2013: #2 Auburn, #4 South Carolina, #5 Missouri, #7 Alabama
- 2014: #4 Alabama
- 2017: #2 Georgia
- 2019: #4 Georgia, #6 Florida, #8 Alabama
- 2020: #7 Georgia
- 2021: #2 Alabama
- 2022: #5 Alabama, #6 Tennessee
If you play in the SEC, and you lose two or fewer games, you finish ranked in the top 10. It’s not a guarantee... But it’s pretty close to a guarantee. That’s not nothing at a place like Missouri. Missouri finished the season ranked among the top 10 of the AP Poll four separate times in the 1960s. The Tigers have finished ranked in the top 10 in the final AP Poll of the season four other times in the history of the program. Once again, the only times that’s taken place in the past fifty years was 2007 (#4) and 2013 (#5)
Maybe that’s not enough. Maybe describing what such a season means for the Tigers’ bowl game will give you a better idea of why this matters. The SEC teams to finish with 2 regular season losses played in the following bowl games:
- Capital One Bowl (New Year’s Day)
- Sugar Bowl (New Year’s Day)
- Peach Bowl (New Year’s Day)
- Cotton Bowl (January 3rd/4th)
- Outback Bowl (New Year’s Day)
- Citrus Bowl (New Year’s Day)
- Orange Bowl (December 30th)
You can’t ask for a much better grouping of bowls than that. The SEC tie-ins aren’t what they once were, but a 2-loss season would put the Tigers in prime position to end up in a bowl game that could send them to Tampa (ReliaQuest Bowl), Las Vegas (Las Vegas Bowl), Jacksonville (Gator Bowl) or Nashville (Music City Bowl) depending on Missouri’s preferences on location/timing and how things go around the Tigers.
The stakes aren’t what they once were for Missouri. The opportunity to create a moment we’ll never forget has come and gone. That doesn’t mean this season has nothing left to play for. Quite the contrary. This team still has an opportunity to put together one of the three best records we’ve seen at Missouri in the past 50 years. That’s quite the accomplishment.
It’s not going to be easy. Those who win in November will be remembered. The challenge continues with Tennessee. We’ll soon find out if the Tigers are up for it.