Missouri should brace for harder times in SEC East
For two years, they tore through the SEC East as the new kid on the block with swagger, surprising stodgy traditionalists in their marches to Atlanta.
For two years, they roared as SEC East foes snoozed, their timing right to take the division and create momentum for a new chapter in the program’s history.
But the world around the Missouri Tigers has changed. Tennessee threatens to meet its promise. Florida claimed the division title last year and only has started to learn what it can become under Jim McElwain. Georgia should be solid under Kirby Smart, a Nick Saban disciple. It’s fair to approach Kentucky and South Carolina with skepticism, but both can surprise.
Missouri pelted a hibernating bear in 2013 and 2014. Now the animal has awakened.
Perhaps it’s the Tigers’ time to slumber in the SEC East basement for a while. Would that surprise you?
Would it shock if they scrapped for six or seven wins the next few years? Would it stun if they went from “Georgia on My Mind” and SEC title game appearances to “please make a bowl” and preferably not in Shreveport?
The Tigers’ offense was a train wreck last fall. There’s no guarantee it will be much better this season as players learn new coaches and unfamiliar tendencies.
The Tigers’ defensive line should be stellar. But that group will be asked to mask a questionable secondary and bend more than break.
Look, Missouri had a quality run, probably a better one than most optimists could have imagined after the Big 12 move. Remember in 2012 when the Tigers seemed light years from dreaming about a trip to Atlanta? Remember when it all seemed so helpless?
There was the 41-20 trouncing against Georgia. There was the 31-10 pasting at South Carolina. There was the 19-15 sky-is-falling defeat to Vanderbilt. There were the tire tracks left behind by Alabama and Texas A&M.
Gary Pinkel’s best team was the 2007 group. But his top coaching jobs came in 2013 and 2014. What the Tigers did during that two-year, 23-5 run was incredible. Their 42-13 win in 2014 at Florida (pictured) prompted “Fire Muschamp” calls from the stands, which were nearly empty by the final whistle.
You take victories however they come, no matter the style points involved. It didn’t matter that Florida was a non-factor under Will Muschamp in those years, that Georgia tripped over its own cleats under Mark Richt, that South Carolina slopped around under Steve Spurrier or that Kentucky counted down the hours until Midnight Madness under Mark Stoops. Missouri made the most of a favorable time.
Still, the Tigers are no Alabama or Ohio State. Missouri doesn’t reload, as last year’s 5-7 record showed. It went from 1961-2006 without a 10-win season. It endured 13 consecutive losing seasons from 1984-1996. The program tries to patch things up with balsa sticks and baling wire. Then it hopes to catch lightning in a bottle.
Don’t forget, there’s danger in snoozing for too long. Since 2007, the Tigers haven’t gone more than two consecutive seasons without cracking at least 10 wins. But don’t be shocked to see that run end, to see eight- and nine-win seasons become the new high water mark for the near future as power builds in Knoxville, Gainesville and elsewhere. This could be the new reality.
In this microwave era, where does that leave Missouri? Not in a good place.
Who knows? Perhaps the Tigers will surprise again, just like they did after the 5-7 misery in 2012, when so many outside Columbia doubted Pinkel’s ability to make his program relevant anytime soon. Perhaps more double-digit-win seasons will come.
Still, there’s a sense that Missouri’s window has closed in the SEC East, at least for the time being.
Enjoy memories of the past. But brace for harder future.