The classics include, “Who do you see as Missouri’s conference rival?”, and “Does Missouri fit in this conference, culturally?”, and of course don’t forget this old chestnut; “You guys have a team?”
It’s safe to say that ever since Missouri snuck its way into the Southeastern Conference, many have wondered what role the Tigers play in this field of fourteen football-obsessed schools. Are we a perennial doormat like Vanderbilt, who despite their terrible play, brings an academic boost and some big city television revenue to the conference? Are we a South Carolina, a team that can jump up and bite anybody, but can just as easily play some of the worst football the world has ever seen? There are those who would suggest that Mizzou is even more comparable to a Florida, where a division championship should be the bottom rung on the expectation ladder for their team each year.
Well, I would argue this debate is over. Missouri is inching its way toward a decade in the SEC. Most of Lane Kiffin’s illegitimate children have never lived in a world without Mizzou in the conference. We know who this team is, and what their role is.
Tennessee fans in 2012 predicted Mizzou would never beat the Vols in Neyland… not just that season, but ever. A mediocre (5-7) Tiger team however would battle for an epic four-overtime win in just their first attempt in Knoxville. Heads nearly exploded after this shocking result, and one head rolled. Just one week later, head coach (and current Mizzou offensive coordinator) Derek Dooley was shown the door.
Of course the next two years would be a case study on how to crash a party, as Mizzou tore through the 2013 and 2014 seasons, stealing the division from Georgia and South Carolina. Both fanbases would pout tirelessly, but what they should have been doing was taking notes. This was becoming Mizzou’s M.O.
2015 was a historically shitty year for Mizzou sports in general, but we still got to witness Drew Lock grab his first conference home win against a flailing, Steve Spurrier coached, South Carolina team. Much like 2012 against Tennessee, the ol’ Ball Coach was gone a week later.
2016 was Mizzou’s worst year in the conference, but that didn’t stop their party crashing ways. After some of the worst football in program history, the Tigers entered their season finale with just three wins, and little momentum against their supposed rival in Arkansas. The Tigers gutted the game out though, and shocked the Hogs fans by claiming the Battle Line Rivalry trophy. Arkansas would go on to lose the Belk Bowl to Virginia Tech and the temperature on Bret Bielema’s chair rose dramatically.
Last season may have been one that clinched the Tigers’ identity as party crashers. They entered the season with few expectations, lost five horrible games in a row, and then suddenly, as if out of nowhere, began mowing down teams and coaches. Florida had just canned pescophile Jim McElwain when Missouri clobbered them 45-16. Tennessee would take another Tiger beating (50-17) which would end the tenure of another Vol’s coach. And once again Arkansas would stumble, as would Bret Bielema.
All these teams can have their excuses, but the fact remains that Mizzou crashed their party. 2018 sets up nicely for more of the same. As SEC Media Days tradition demands, Mizzou is lightly regarded, expected to finish third in the division at best. Florida, Tennessee, and Arkansas are all expecting to be dramatically better, despite no evidence that a rapid turnaround is possible. South Carolina is shooting for the moon and hard-wired to overlook Missouri. Even Georgia, yes mighty Georgia could fall victim to pitfalls. They face the Tigers early in the season. They have to play on the road. They have a spotty record against Mizzou, even in years they’re heavy favorites.
Of course, if Mizzou wants to etch its status as party crashers in granite forever… look to Tuscaloosa. Mizzou will face the reigning national champions, and early favorites to repeat the honor in Alabama on October 13th. Now, only a fool would straight out predict such an outcome, but should it transpire… well just imagine Donald Trump ripping off his shirt and doing keg stands at the royal wedding.