After mostly playing nonconference games, Saturday’s win over Ole Miss was the first of seven straight SEC games for the Tigers. The stakes will rise each week. But before the Tigers and Rebels even kicked off, Missouri got a gift.
Sometime between the Homecoming parade and the Cardinals disappointing a solid chunk of the Mizzou fan base, among a bevy of grilled meats and liquid refreshments, South Carolina took a hammer to the SEC East’s assumed order with a stunning win at Georgia.
That game seemed off from the start. Gamecock coach Will Muschamp is a wild man. Once, as defensive coordinator at Texas, he tore off his headset so violently it cut his face, and then he continued to coach his defense with blood streaming down his face. And yet there he was on the sideline Saturday, with a delicate pair of reading glasses perched on his nose, looking like a dry statistics professor. Corrective eyewear is no joking matter, but it had a similar effect to putting a bow tie on a bear, making a ferocious beast appear whimsical.
But it was symbolic of the South Carolina swagger. Lose yet another quarterback to injury? No problem. Have almost no offense after the first quarter? No problem. There can only be so much glasses-based mojo in any one place, and in double overtime Georgia’s reliable kicker, the bespectacled senior Rodrigo Blankenship, affectionately known as “Hot Rod,” missed a field goal in double overtime wide, and Georgia had lost. It felt like a pure choke job by the Bulldogs, but it also raised questions about them maybe not being as invincible as previously thought.
Later that night, as Missouri fans were reveling in a euphoric win over Ole Miss, including a goal line stand right before halftime that launched a spontaneous dance party at Faurot Field, another SEC East contender took a fall. This one was more expected. Florida put up a game effort, but succumbed to LSU and another ferocious crowd at Tiger Stadium.
Missouri is now alone in first place in the SEC East.
There are still too many variables to project, but if Missouri can beat the winner of the Florida-Georgia “World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party” rivalry game, the Tigers have a great chance to win the East, especially given their other remaining games. Of course, bitter experience since 2015 has taught Tiger fans not to sleep on Mark Stoops and the Kentucky Wildcats.
But first comes Saturday’s game at Vanderbilt. The Commodores are coming off a brutal 34-10 loss to UNLV, but in Vandy’s defense, they’re not the first ones to get annihilated by Las Vegas.
Missouri is a three-touchdown favorite and should have a big contingent of fans in Nashville. This is a chance for the newly-ranked Tigers to put the hammer down.
Of course, the annoying caveat to all this excitement is Missouri’s pending appeal on its NCAA sanctions. The Tigers are eligible to play in the SEC Championship Game and a bowl game while the appeal is pending, but the ruling could come at any time. It’s frustrating to have that uncertainty, but for now Missouri is eligible. The focus should be full steam ahead.
The narrative has shifted from “Can Mizzou recover from that horrendous loss to Wyoming?” to “Can Mizzou win the East?” Of all the changes last weekend, that might be the most significant.
Missouri can inch closer to that goal on Saturday in Nashville.