Foster famously wrote that the sun shines bright on his old Kentucky home, but it absolutely did not shine on Missouri’s trip to the Bluegrass State, literally and metaphorically.
The rain fell and fell and fell, like hopes for this Tigers team. The hope took months to build, and then vanished in a matter of hours. Kentucky beat Missouri for the fifth straight time. As a general rule of thumb in college football, if any school widely considered to be one of the best basketball programs of all time owns you in football, it’s not good.
College football’s long offseason is a time for travel, grilling in the backyard and talking yourself into hope about your football team. NCAA sanctions be damned, I hoped for the best with the appeal and charted Mizzou’s potential path to Atlanta and the SEC title game. Some years this requires more creativity and “slide into Instagram model’s DM’s” levels of blind optimism, but this year the schedule was favorable and there were enough returning contributors it seemed at least possible to contend for the SEC East.
All those dreams got a little bit of proof of concept support during a five-game winning streak. And then it all came unraveled. First came the staggering loss as a three-touchdown favorite on a gray day in Nashville, capped by Commodores coach Derek Mason’s jubilant shouting in a postgame interview. Mason punctuated it by yelling, “Anchoring down!” although it also sort of sounded like he said, “Aikman is dead!” I listened to it over and over, like a concerned parent listening to their kids’ rock albums backwards in search of coded messages.
Then came the debacle in the rain at Lexington. The Vandy loss simply gave away Missouri’s game-in-hand advantage over Georgia and Florida and raised alarms; the Kentucky loss crushed any optimism, crushed those hopes that brewed for the warm months of spring and summer.
Pick a phase of the game, and Kentucky probably dominated Mizzou at it, including “paying attention when the other team’s punter is running for a huge gain in lieu of actually punting.” The Wildcats just looked tougher, better, more ready.
The last time Missouri won a conference title in football, it was the season celebrating 100 years of college football. There’s a photo hanging on the wall at Harpo’s of Missouri winning against Nebraska, and the Tigers are wearing helmets with “100” on them to commemorate a century of college football since Rutgers and Princeton barreled around in a field in 1869.
This season, Missouri’s uniforms bear a “150” logo, and the Tigers are still waiting for their next conference title.
So, now what? Missouri would still win the SEC East by winning its four remaining games, but I say that largely matter of factly, like when I annoy my friends with text messages on Aug. 20 letting them know technically the Royals are not yet eliminated from postseason contention.
The Tigers could save their season with a win at Georgia, but that’s a long shot. It’s like when you’re down big at a casino and go all in on one final spin of the roulette wheel to try to save yourself from your terrible gambling strategies, but you know it isn’t likely you’ll be bailed out.
Missouri was always going to be an underdog for the game at Georgia, but after the two disastrous losses, winning in Athens is looking like an even tougher mountain to climb.