The 2018 Missouri Tigers football team needs to focus on that.
Last season was a rollercoaster. A horrific start that left fans scratching their heads and thinking back to the days of Woody’s Wagon. Barry Odom’s seat, fair or not, had to start feeling a little hot.
Then came a sudden turnaround. The offense caught fire. The defense stepped up - albeit against less than stellar offenses. The regular season culminated in maybe the best win of the year, a 48-45 thriller in Fayetteville.
Then came a dud in the bowl game against the Big XII Longh… I mean Texas Longhorns.
Questions surrounded the team. Would Drew Lock, fresh off a record-setting season, return? Would Terry Beckner, Jr., fresh off his best and healthiest season, return? And perhaps the most asked question: was Mizzou’s midseason turnaround the product of better play, or the product of a weak second-half schedule?
Lock? Returning- with eight other starters (and a new Offensive Coordinator, which is another story unto itself). Beckner? Returning- with a now eligible Jordan Elliot, the entire Linebacker corps, and two starters in the secondary.
The third question, however, still needs to be answered.
The Tigers will have plenty of early opportunities to see how far they have come. Weeks 4-7 line up as follows: Georgia, BYE, at South Carolina, at Alabama.
Those three games serve as the headlining rough stretch that usually accompanies life in the SEC.
Which is why I would suggest the Tigers get off to a quick start. These Tigers cannot afford otherwise. Two obvious must-wins to start the year, followed by a potential redemption game Week 3 against Purdue in West Lafayette, a team who stormed into Columbia and throttled the Tigers 35-3 in what was maybe/probably- OK, definitely- the Tigers worst performance of the 2017 season. With Weeks 4-7 serving as the gauntlet of the schedule, I would argue Week 3 at Purdue may very well define Missouri’s season this year. Think the game at Indiana in 2013.
This team could be explosive offensively with the talent it returns, assuming of course that the players have meshed with new OC Derek Dooley’s offensive philosophy. The defense is somewhat unproven in the secondary, but the returning linebacking corps should lead the way along with Beckner Jt. up front. Throw in Jordan Elliot, a former blue-chip prospect, and the hope that Mizzou’s recent history of molding successful defensive ends- Michael Sam, Kony Ealy, Shane Ray to name a few- re-emerges, and the idea that this defense could improve is far from a long shot.
If the Tigers can come out of the first seven weeks 3-3, that should be seen as a successful start. 4-2 would be outstanding. 5-1 would be a dream. 6-0 and I get a tattoo.
But if you can get to 3-3 and show some real fight in games against Georgia, the heavy favorites in the East, South Carolina, the generally considered number two in the East, and the Crimson Tide in Alabama, the Tigers should provide hope to the fanbase, and belief to the team that it can compete with the big boys.
From there you have six games to truly define your season. The second-half of the schedule again sets up to be easier than the first half, especially assuming there is an adjustment period for Dan Mullen at Florida and Jeremy Pruitt at Tennessee. But Memphis provides a tough homecoming matchup - they are not Idaho. Kentucky at home, Florida in Gainesville, Vanderbilt, at Tennessee, then the regular-season finale at home against Arkansas.
These are all games that can be lost. None of them would be considered a victory ‘lock.’
However, these are all games that can be won as well. Getting Florida and Tennessee both on the road may be a different animal in 2 years, but with both schools undergoing coaching transitions, the Tigers have a great opportunity for two quality road wins.
If the Tigers want to get to 8-9 wins, there is no room for a lull or a drop-off in play. They may want to follow the blueprint left by the 2013-2014 Tigers team who seemed to play every game with the same effort and intensity.
This is a team that could end up under .500 and potentially end the Barry Odom era. This is also a team that could conceivably end up 9-3 and rejuvenate a fanbase that still seems to be split on Odom.
The likelihood of getting closer to the latter depends on the consistency the Tigers play with this season.