There are a million phrases in the official coaching handbook which you can print and use a motivational tools to spurn your team forward. This here blog used to make fun of the Oklahoma Sooners with the Disrespect Chronicles because it’s pretty absurd that the Bob Stoops’ Oklahoma Sooners were not respected appropriately. There’s a reason why the phrase “bulletin board material” exists. Coaches will use any motivational tactic, real or invented, to get their team to play and fight harder.
Most of this is horse-hockey, of course. I hate to inform the Georgia Bulldogs, but nobody doubted if you could be the best team in the country again. If you’re Michigan or Alabama or Ohio State... everyone thinks you’re going to be really good and a lock to at least compete for a top four spot in the College Football playoff. That’s not being doubted. You aren’t shocking the world.
So it’s a rare thing that a program, a coach and his players, can talk about disrespect and it be a real thing. But Missouri is the exception to the rule. Eli Drinkwitz coined this season as one where they had Something to Prove. It started in the spring, On3’s College Football writer Jesse Simonton picked the Tigers 13th out of 14 SEC teams, ahead of only Vanderbilt. The lack of belief continued into SEC Media days when the Tigers were picked 6th in the SEC East, where they had the 12th fewest votes ahead of Vanderbilt and Auburn. Sports Illustrated picked Mizzou 13th, Athlon Sports picked Missouri 13th, ESPN’s Derek Low and Alex Scarborough picked the Tigers 13th and 12th, respectively. Fox? 6th in the East. CBS had 8 “experts” predict the order of finish, 6 of them picked the Tigers 6th, one fifth, and only Chip Patterson broke from the pack to pick them 4th.
That’s probably all the evidence we needed. There’s plenty of bulletin board material. Eli Drinkwitz could put a pin in each, and in bold letters right below these articles he could write: Something to prove. From there you let the players do the rest.
I never quite understood why Mizzou was so disrespected by the general college football media. I get they’d been pretty mediocre, but the defense had been very solid and they had been better than South Carolina and Arkansas over the last few years, and were gaining on Kentucky, and really should have beaten Florida. Everyone should be better than Vanderbilt. So I was probably with Chip Patterson of CBS; I was buying on the defense and thinking they should be 4th, but with a few lucky bounces maybe 3rd. But I’m a fan. And like some of you there’s always a little bit more hope from your own fanbase going into a season. We aren’t all completely jaded. I thought Mizzou could be pretty good.
I also spend a lot of time listening to the really smart analysis from Nate Edwards and Brandon Kiley. For several years they were pegging 2023 as the potential breakout season. Nate even penned this excellent pre-cursor to the season where he asked Why not now? (If you haven’t read this very excellent piece I suggest you stop reading this now and go read it, it’s stuff like that which makes this site great) Nate and BK had talked me back into the belief that this could be the year of a breakout. But even my very modest expectations on what that might mean have been exceeded in every way possible.
From Harrison Mevis’ 61-yard game winner to the 48-14 decimation in Fayetteville, this season has been special. There were a few hiccups; there almost always are. But those hiccups were going toe-to-toe with the best team in the country on their home field and nearly pulling off the miracle... and going head-to-head against the best player in the country and not being able to prevent him from going bananas. Any other hiccups didn’t kill you. 4th and 17? Find Luther. Need a momentum swing down 14 on the road? Fake a punt and throw it to Marquis Johnson. Both plays were great moments in the now permanent highlight reel of this season, destined to be played on a loop for many years in the future. Right in line with L’Damian Washington streaking through the defense against South Carolina, Henry Josey clinching the SEC East against Texas A&M, Colt 45, and Sod Reesing.
Cody Schrader, Luther Burden and Brady Cook were each deemed worthy of nomination for national awards, and Missouri was the only school to have representatives for each position. The offensive line given their due with a nomination for the Joe Moore award. Darius Robinson wearing Mizzou on his back for his final home game. Kris Abrams-Draine interceptions and Ennis Rakestraw Jr. not getting any picks because nobody would throw at him. Ty’Ron Hopper named a finalist for the Butkus award.
Schrader deserves to be in New York for the Heisman presentation at least. I’ll contend Jayden Daniels is the best player in College Football and probably deserves the award, but Schrader has been the most important offensive player on a top 10 team.
All of these things happened this season. It started with us questioning if Eli Drinkwitz could get it done at Missouri and it ended with him and his team answering those questions with an emphatic yes they could. Now all that’s left is one more game to be played, on New Years Day. And then a future to build. This chapter has been written, and written in gold.