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Mizzou: This Season’s Turnaround Could Boomerang on Barry Odom in 2018

The best thing that happened for Mizzou coach Barry Odom in 2017 was a stunning six-game winning streak that turned a depressing season into a winning season and changed the perception of the MU program.

The worst thing that happened to Odom in 2017 was a deceiving six-game winning streak over a sequence of collapsed teams. The 6-0 run going into Mizzou’s appointment with the Texas Longhorns in the Texas Bowl streak increased excitement, raised expectations, and made the Tigers look a helluva lot better than they were. And that streak — rudely snuffed by Texas —  figures to set up Mizzou and Odom for a disappointing 2018 campaign.

I was happy over Odom’s in-season turnaround that revived Mizzou after its feckless 1-5 start to the season. Mizzou finished with a respectable 4-4 record in the SEC, and qualified for a bowl game for the first time since 2014.

All good.

Look, you can only win the games that are put in front of you.

And if Mizzou had lost to any of the six teams, Odom would have been ridiculed. If he had lost two or three games to those six, he would have been ripped. If he would have lost four of the final six, he probably would have been fired.

Instead, by beating up on vulnerable opponents, which is what he is paid to do, Odom received a contract extension. No problem. If anything, the revised contract probably helped Odom in recruiting.

I never tried to withhold credit in response to Mizzou’s six consecutive wins. Odom didn’t set the SEC schedule. Odom didn’t cause Florida to turn on head coach Jim McElwain, didn’t sabotage Tennessee  coach Butch Jones, didn’t operate the wrecking ball that left Vandy’s defense in rubble, and wasn’t responsible for the downfall of Arkansas head coach Bret Bielema. Mizzou wasn’t the reason for Connecticut being one of the worst FBS teams in college football … and ditto for Idaho.

Those six opponents combined for a 24-41 record this season. And when their seasons unraveled — early on in most cases — Mizzou’s six victims collectively lost 37 of their final 45 games.

It would be ludicrous to assess Mizzou’s six-game winning streak without noting the quality of the opponents. According to the Sagarin ratings, the best of the lot was Florida at No. 67.

A win is a win is a win.

And I don’t disagree.

But some wins are better than others.

Alabama beating Clemson has more prestige and value than ‘Bama beating, say,  Vandy.

And that’s why the Texas Bowl was such an easy investment opportunity for me.

The Longhorns aren’t a great team, but at No. 27 in the Sagarin they’re significantly superior to the six frail opponents that Mizzou slapped around for wins.

I wasn’t surprised, at all, by Mizzou’s 33-16 loss.

In terms of strength of opponent, Texas was a big step up from Idaho, UConn, Florida, Tennessee, Vanderbilt and Arkansas.

And while I certainly respected Odom’s leadership in keeping his team together and competing hard when it would have been easy to  submit to failure, it didn’t inspire me to proclaim that he’d arrived as a big-time coach who was set for a long, prosperous stay in CoMo.

As I’ve said and written on multiple occasions: Odom has a lot to prove.  And I mean a LOT.

I need to see more before writing poems about Odom’s intelligence, temperament, decision-making skills, salesmanship in recruiting and coordinating every aspect of an SEC football program.

The six-game streak represented six steps in the right direction … followed by a big step back in the 17-point loss to Texas. When you have so many miles to go, moving forward five or six steps doesn’t get you close. A little closer, maybe. But close? No.

With such a disturbing loss to a Texas squad that played shorthanded, Odom went 0-6 this season against opponents that finished with a winning record. That was worst than last season, When Mizzou had a 2-7 record against teams that closed the season with a winning mark. That makes Odom 2-13 in his two seasons in games vs. winning teams.

Keep in mind that I was in favor of giving Odom the job … mostly because a roiling, turmoil-plagued university was in no position to attract a coaching candidate who had much better options. I was good with Odom getting an opportunity, but that doesn’t mean I went into the tank for him. And it remains to be seen if Mizzou has any lasting value from the four straight SEC wins over teams that went a combined 6-26 late in the season.

Any momentum was drained by MU’s disorganized four-turnover, nine-penalty relapse vs. the Longhorns.  Drew Lock (18 of 34, 269 yards, one TD, one interception) didn’t look like a quarterback ready for the NFL; he wasn’t even ready to tame a Big 12 Texas team that went 5-4 in league play.

There’s a real possibility of this six-game winning boomeranging and coming back and to smack  Odom upside the head in 2018. After unexpectedly creating a positive buzz in 2017, Mizzou now faces the responsibility of keeping the buzz going in ’18. And should the Tigers trip and stumble and fall down in the SEC East standings, it will be the kind of letdown that puts young, unproven coaches in a precarious position.

By going 7-6 in his second season on the job, how could Odom explain a regression to, say, four wins in 2018?

The 2018 SEC East coaching lineup will present a more difficult challenge for  Odom and his staff, and that’s one of my all-time understatements.

The outstanding and underrated Dan Mullen is the new leader at Florida, and acclaimed Alabama defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt is taking over at Tennessee. In his first two seasons Will Muschamp reversed South Carolina’s decline by winning 15 games — including an impressive 9-4 this season — and going to consecutive bowl games. Kentucky’s Mark Stoops has led the Wildcats to two consecutive winning seasons; that isn’t easy to do in Lexington. And Georgia’s Kirby Smart will coach the Dawgs in Monday’s All-SEC matchup against Alabama in the national championship game. Georgia, which is now out-recruiting Alabama, is set to go off on a dominant run that figures to last a long time.

As recently as 2014, Georgia finished behind Mizzou in the SEC East.

Heck,  every team in the division finished behind Mizzou for two consecutive seasons, 2013-14.

Mizzou’s stay at the top was brief.

With Smart at Georgia and Mullen at Florida — and perhaps Tennessee will rise again soon — Missouri faces a more daunting task to reach the 2013-2014 level.

Odom’s first test is to hire a good replacement for the departed offensive coordinator Josh Heupel, who jumped at the chance to catch a ride on Scott Frost’s coattails at UCF. (It’s now Friday morning … still no OC … what’s taking so long?)

It was cool for Odom to re-inflate the hopes of MU fans by winning six in a row to take the Tigers bowling again. But when you inflate those party balloons, and they suddenly pop … well, the noise is loud and unpleasant and can make the smiles go away.

Thanks for reading …

–Bernie

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