The Missouri game tomorrow is the most important game of our season. It is a must-win.
I'm not spewing cliches. I'm not aping coach-speak in order to keep the troops focused. This has nothing to do with a 'one-game-at-a-time' mantra. I'm being deadly earnest. We have to beat Mizzou.
The future of our program might hinge on it.
I know what some of you are thinking. Blogger-melodrama. Every league game is important you say. Missouri will be no more or no less important than the rest of the SEC games on the sked - LSU, Vanderbilt, Texas A&M, Tennessee and Florida.
But let's be brutally honest. With the exception of the Vanderbilt game, we're going to be heavy underdogs the rest of conference play and likely home-dogs against Clemson. Do even the most die-hard among you think we'll do better than 3-3 over that stretch (5 SEC + CU)?
Even if Wilds comes back strong, and Zo and Pharoh play out of their minds ... even if Williams finds another gear ... are we going to be able to overcome our defensive woes? Until we generate a pass-rush or can find anybody that can play DB without immediately turning their hips while giving up a 10 yard cushion, we're going to be pin-cushioned with slants, curls and crossing routes the rest of the year - not to mentioned gashed by top RBs. T.J. Holloman and Skai Moore can only do so much from their LB spots, and as good as they are as LB, they're not going to be able to cover top-tier SEC wideouts. It's not their job.
Being frank with ourselves, 2-4 is the probable outcome of the six games against FBS opponents following Missouri. That contemplates a struggle to beat Vandy and somehow, someway to steal another SEC win (from Tennessee or Florida most likely). Right now, LSU, TAMU and Clemson have better personnel.
Only the fact Clemson is a rivalry game, where the best team doesn't always win - and played at Williams-Brice this year - gives me any shot to hope for 3-3.
Do the math. We're 2-2 now. We should beat The Citadel [please euthanize me if we don't]. However, we should also be reasonable and accept that - not counting Missouri - we're likely looking at a 5-6 or 6-6 record. By blowing the Kentucky game, we gave away our margin of error for a winning season and a bowl invite. Only with a win over Missouri , all things else holding equal (admittedly a big 'if'), is there a realistic path to a winning season and a trip to a lower tier bowl.
Please be my guest to pray for a miracle finish where the HBC whips 'em up to go out and win one for the
Gipper Visor. Indulge your fantasies about revenge victories over the insufferable Aggies and Vols, or that Spurrier can knock off his alma mater just one more time. Savor the idea of rendering Dabo speechless.
Just don't count on it, either.
So, you ask, how does the future of the program depend on Saturday? Several reasons:
1. It's more likely than not that this will be Spurrier's last season in Columbia. It's been an amazing run, with some ups and downs, but he's burnished his Hall of Fame credentials by taking us on the 33-6 run that no one thought could be done at Carolina and becoming our winningest coach ever. But he's not getting any younger and he's not getting any closer to competing for SEC championships again. Even if you really hope he stays, or you feel this sort of talk is disrespectfully premature, in your heart of hearts will you really be surprised if he hangs up the visor in December? Two years ago, he said he'd likely go 2-3 more years. He probably meant it and its become more than a bit of self-fulfilling prophecy.
2. If you accept # 1 as likely, then we need a decent season to attract a top replacement, and survive the recruiting whirlwind of a Spurrier-exit-stage-left. True, the HBC has proven Fat Brad Scott a liar: a good coach can win consistently at USC and that will help us no doubt. But it will be easier to land the best fit for us - rather that settle for the best available - if we can at least eke out another winning campaign. It will show the candidates that this is not a rebuild job. While not completely analogous, the situation on the gridiron is close to Eddie Fogler's last slumpy seasons heading up the men's basketball program. True, we got to the NIT his last season '00-'01 (eliminated in the first round). We were just good enough to attract a decent coach like Davey Odom out of Wake, but was he the best fit instead of the best available to us? If Fogler had finished stronger in '99-'00 could we've done better? Absolutely. Have we paid for that blunder on the hardwood? Absolutely.
3. We desperately need the bowl practices. Even if we're going to have new coaches and systems, you simply do not want to give up three extra weeks of practice that eleven conference mates will enjoy.
The time is right to get a precious SEC road win. More than that, it's beat Missouri and maybe go to a bowl. Lose and likely be home for the holidays.
Don't kid yourself. Mizzou is going to be a tough-out. We haven't yet put together a complete game. If you've been scoring at home, we've enjoyed three craptastic first halves against UNC, UK, UCF where we tried to give the game away (successfully in the case of the Wildcats), and an absolutely de-pantsing second half against UGA where the Dawgs administered a humiliating curb-stomping for the ages after we'd played a relatively respectable first half.
The wiseguys and prognosticators still seem to be favoring the "M".The Tigers from the other Columbia are well-coached and match-up well with us, as demonstrated in the '13 and '14 contests. Entre nous, I expect Missouri to prevail 24-21 while hoping for the best for us.
But they have to be reeling from their disappointing start along with their suspensions and injuries. To picture what the Tigers are dealing with, I want you to imagine it being last year and you have just learned that Dylan Thompson and Will Sport have been indefinitely benched for undisclosed rules violations (WTH?). Also imagine that Connor Mitch will now start at QB despite limited appearances, and that Mike Davis still cannot get healthy from an ankle injury from Game 1 so cannot be counted on to produce. Now picture also being told that Skai Moore is out for the game, too. Oh, and don't forget that Bruce Ellington is gone because he'd already been dismissed the year before. [Work with me, folks - this is alternate history].
Get all that in your mind's eye and you understand why the Missourians are pulling out their hair with their starting QB and a reserve OL suspended; their best RB severely limited; their best LB out and their best WR and native son playing for the Tennessee Titans instead of one more season for the home school.
We have got to exploit Mizzou's vulnerability. We must find a way to win.
A lot is riding on it more than just one W or L.