For the past two seasons, Mizzou fans seem to be asking themselves each week if the program has finally hit rock bottom. Unfortunately, the simple answer to that questions seems to be “no” following the latest uninspired and hapless effort- this time a 35-21 loss to Kentucky.
Yes, these are the same Kentucky Wildcats that have failed to make a bowl game since 2011 and have wildly underachieved under coach Mark Stoops despite a collection of solid recruiting classes and university commitment. The Tigers woeful defense gave up over 175 yards rushing to two different UK running backs (a feat never before achieved in Kentucky football history).
How Did We Get Here?
- The Maty Mauk disaster. The Tigers were coming off back-to-back SEC East titles when struggling quarterback Maty Mauk became suspended for violating team rules. After being re-instated he was briskly shown the door once again after a video leaked of (what appeared to be) him inhaling an illicit drug through his nose. Meanwhile, true-freshman Drew Lock was forced into action and helped lead one of the worst offense in Mizzou football history.
- Recruiting mishaps. The wheels really began to fall off the recruiting wagon starting back in 2012. Gary Pinkel and his staff had always done a great job of identifying under-the-radar talent but the tumors began bubbling four years ago as each class seemed to dwindle in producing talented players. According to Rivals.com Mizzou notched the 32nd, 40th, 35th, and 27th and 46th ranked classes from 2012-2016. As it stands right now, Missouri sits at 55th in Rivals recruiting rankings and it’s hard to imagine any improvement with the team playing this poorly.
- ConcernedStudent1950. The wheels were all pretty much off of the 2015 football season when a group of 30 players decided to boycott the upcoming game against BYU unless the demands of CS1950 were met. Without fully understanding the situation at hand, head coach Gary Pinkel backed his players as campus unrest continued. The system president was fired and Mizzou played the game against BYU, but the locker room (and university itself) were left fractured. Pinkel retired immediately in the wake of the disaster as he had also been diagnosed with Non-Hogkins lymphoma.
- The lame duck Athletic Director. Seriously, what exactly did Mack Rhoades do for the year that he was on the job at Mizzou? Was Rhoades merely a victim of circumstance? It is certainly possible, as very few A.D.’s have had to deal with as much animosity as he did, however, he seemed to have one foot out the door the moment adversity struck. The proposed south end zone stadium renovation was seemingly frozen under his watch and he hired Barry Odom to be the next head football coach perhaps preemptively as the players wanted Odom and the players clearly run the show at Missouri. Rhoades announced he was leaving for Baylor (of all places) which put Mizzou, once again, in a situation where they were dealing with a lack of leadership at the top of the athletic department.
- New coach with no head coaching experience. Many were in favor of hiring Barry Odom, but in hindsight, it’s easy to see why growing pains are happening. Odom is basically learning on the job at an SEC school where winning is extremely difficult under normal circumstances. Odom is not operation under normal circumstances and had only been the defensive coordinator at Mizzou for a year when he was hired. Is it still possible that Odom turns out to be a star and turns this disaster around? Of course, but he’s got a mighty tough road ahead.
- Defensive woes. Despite going 5-7 in 2015, Missouri boasted a top-5 defense in all of college football. 8 starters returned from that team and new defensive coordinator DeMonte Cross has managed to completely run the defense into the ground and that blame falls on the back of Odom as well. The Tigers have dropped about 100 spots in overall defensive rankings from a year ago and have been a part of record setting offensive days for LSU (total yards) and Kentucky (two backs with over 175 rushing).
“I’ve got a strong belief that absolutely I’m going to get this done.” Odom proclaimed after the loss to Kentucky. “I know what we’re doing and how we’re going to get there. I never did dream or think that this was going to be easy.”
Certainly, any type of turnaround in 2016 feels like a pipe dream at best even with South Carolina and Vanderbilt coming up the next two weeks. At 2-6, it appears likely that this team could finish an abominable 2-10 with its only wins coming over Eastern Michigan and Delaware State.
It has been 27 years since a Missouri football team finished with only two victories and that was in the first year of the ill-fated Bob Stull era. The futility surrounding the program currently echos nauseating memories of dark ages past. The Tigers failed to reach a bowl game from 1984-1997 and it took a once-in-a-lifetime head coach in Gary Pinkel to bring Missouri back to consistent national prominence. Don’t be fooled, Odom is currently facing a Pinkel-Esq rebuilding effort and is having to accomplish it while learning how to be a Division 1 head coach on the job.