The 1997 Missouri Tigers ended a streak of 13 consecutive losing seasons. The Corby Jones and Devin West-led Tigers returned to a bowl game for the first time since 1983. The Tigers returned to a bowl game the next year as well, before taking a couple years off from the bowl scene until they returned in 2003 in Gary Pinkel’s third year as coach.
In 12 seasons from 2003 to 2014, the Tigers went to 10 bowl games, won five division championships in the Big 12 and SEC, and came within one game of a national championship on two separate occasions, with both of those seasons culminating in victories in the Cotton Bowl.
But enough with the history lesson- my point is this:
Fans of the Missouri Tigers have again grown accustomed to winning.
Which is what made the 2015 and 2016 seasons so frustrating. And the first half of last season... and - besides the final score of the bowl game - what made last season’s second-half run so satisfying. Because bowl games are what this generation of Missouri fans have come to expect.
The 2018 Tigers have 17 returning starters, including your best player on both sides of the ball in Drew Lock and Terry Beckner, Jr. A loaded offensive line. A legitimate 1-2 punch at running back. A talented group of tight ends. Experience spread around the defense, especially in the linebackers. To summarize, talent and experience coming back all over the field, especially on the offensive side of the ball.
I, and Kirk Herbstreit for those of you who pay attention to his annual pre-season awards, believe the Tigers have the talent necessary to surprise some people.
The Tigers and Head Coach Barry Odom must take that talent and make a step forward. And a step forward doesn’t mean a trip to the College Football Playoff. And, not to burst anyone’s hopeful bubble, it doesn’t even mean a division championship.
It means taking care of business in games you can win (looking at you, Purdue and Florida). It means showing up and really competing in games where expectations may be a bit lower (looking at you, Alabama). It means maybe stealing a game you aren’t favored in (looking at you, Georgia and South Carolina).
This is a make-it-or-break-it year for Barry Odom. In order to keep this program on the right path, a winning season is a necessity.
A losing season means Barry Odom probably loses his job. In doing so, the aforementioned talent-rich 2019 and 2020 in-state recruiting classes may look outside the state to find an institution of higher learning at which to play football.
Odom has the chance to improve upon last year’s campaign and boost the overall confidence of a fanbase that expects winning and bowl games but may still be teetering on the fence between a belief that Odom can deliver and the belief that Odom can’t quite get the job done.
That fence existed in the early years of Gary Pinkel, may I remind you.
If Barry Odom wants to get this program back to the years of consistent bowl performances, the occasional threat to the establishment of college football, and a fanbase with unwavering support (or as close to that you can get in college football), I would recommend that he win now. Unfortunately, this kind of pressure is what comes with the territory of being the head coach of the Missouri Tigers.
Odom’s job may depend on it. But more importantly, the next five years of Missouri football may depend on it.