Missouri fans: Would you rather beat Georgia, Florida and Tennessee or ...
Missouri’s time in the SEC remains too short to consider anyone a true rival.
There are attempts to make the matchup against Arkansas meaningful, and the Tigers have drawn the ire of Georgia fans in recent years. But there’s nothing in Missouri’s brief SEC chapter that comes close to the passion and vitriol of the former rivalry with Kansas.
Still, there’s a strong desire from Tigers fans to show their program will stay a player in the SEC East. So for this “Would you rather?” column, I tried to tie multiple wants – asserting strength in the division, beating a budding rival and knocking off a national-championship contender – and combined them to create a complex choice.
The reward matters, but the setback’s pain must be considered as well.
So, Missouri fans, how about it? Would you rather: Upset LSU and beat Arkansas but lose to Georgia, Florida and Tennessee … or … sweep Georgia, Florida and Tennessee but lose to LSU and Arkansas?
Case for Option A: Upset LSU and beat Arkansas but lose to Georgia, Florida and Tennessee
Beating LSU in Baton Rouge would be a huge way to christen the Barry Odom era.
Expectations will be low for Missouri when it visits Tiger Stadium for the first time on Oct. 1. As long as LSU survives matchups against Wisconsin, Mississippi State and Auburn to begin the season, the Bayou Bengals should be 4-0 and in the top 5 when Missouri comes to town. (We’ll assume LSU handles Jacksonville State on Sept. 10.)
Putting a dent in LSU’s title dreams and making a statement in a raucous setting like Death Valley would be one of the biggest victories in modern Missouri history. It would give Odom a signature win and create momentum for his program in what is supposed to be a rebuilding year.
Columbia would throw one heck of a party, too.
On a smaller scale, beating Arkansas at home to close the regular season on Nov. 25 would be meaningful as well. A bowl bid could be at stake, if Missouri loses to Georgia, Florida and Tennessee in this scenario. Making a bowl should be the Tigers’ goal this year.
The Missouri-Arkansas series lacks the spice of Missouri-Kansas. But the more success the Tigers have against the Razorbacks, the better for Odom’s program.
Case for Option B: Sweep Georgia, Florida and Tennessee but lose to LSU and Arkansas
It’s an interesting time in the SEC East. Eyes are fixed on Knoxville and Gainesville to see if Tennessee and Florida can become consistent powers in the division. It will be curious to see if Georgia can rise under Kirby Smart. South Carolina starts fresh under Will Muschamp, and Kentucky will try to figure out if Mark Stoops is the answer. (Vanderbilt is Vanderbilt.)
The Tigers beat the curve by winning division titles in 2013 and 2014. But some critics – this writer included – expect more difficult times ahead with the division seemingly stronger than it was when Missouri clinched trips to Atlanta.
Beating Georgia, Florida and Tennessee would make a large statement that the Tigers aren’t ready to take a back seat to programs that receive more hype. Beating those three teams would go a long way toward placing Missouri in contention for another trip to the SEC Championship Game, which would be a huge accomplishment considering all the change the Tigers have lived in the offseason.
Of course, games within the division mean more. Only the most die-hard True Sons will expect Missouri to survive the trip to Baton Rouge. And while a loss at home to Arkansas would disappoint, I’d guess most Tigers fans will take a defeat to the Razorbacks as long as Missouri won the SEC East.
And the winner is …
I’m guessing most Missouri fans would choose Option B.
Sure, beating LSU would be incredible. And sticking it to Arkansas to end the regular season would feel good. But beating Georgia, Florida and Tennessee would be the better result.
Simple math shows that three victories are better than two. And those three wins would have come within the SEC East, which would give the Tigers the head-to-head edge over each program in the race to Atlanta. Two of the victories would have happened on the road, against Florida and Tennessee. Missouri would have proved its prowess in difficult environments.
The Tigers would love to show that last year’s 5-7 stumble was a hiccup and not a hint of things to come. They went winless against the Bulldogs, Gators and Volunteers last year. Whiffing against all three again would be a setback, and it would prove critics right that Missouri has slipped.
Tigers fans would love to wag their fingers in doubters’ faces. If they can do it in Odom’s first year, when not much is expected, then their satisfaction will be that much sweeter.