Why Missouri football is a safe bet to run it back in 2024

South Carolina v Missouri
South Carolina v Missouri / Jamie Squire/GettyImages

Early in Missouri football’s SEC tenure, it was not a force to be reckoned with, but heading into last season, that image was nothing more than a memory.

Despite hitting 11-plus wins in their second and third runs as an SEC power, 2023 saw the Tigers aiming to break an eight-year stretch of mediocrity — and they did just that.

With an 11-2 record that included high-profile victories and lacked ugly losses, 2023 Mizzou came out swinging in a way that no one expected. But alas, with that random boost in formidability comes just one problem: Doubt.

I would assume that most college football fans are happy for the Tigers (as they are for any typically “humble” team that hits a high), but them having a leap that sudden, combined with them both playing in an improving SEC and losing a handful of talent — especially in their RB unit and secondary — makes for a tear that just screams “fluke”.

However, there are two things that not only serve as fodder for the optimists, but go as far as to substantiate the idea of Mizzou running it back, remaining competitive at the SEC’s highest level and adequately succeeding its most-recent campaign. The first of them? The return of its passing offense.

The 2023 Tigers had a passing attack headlined by an elite connection between quarterback Brady Cook and wide receiver Luther Burden III, which is coming off of a 1,200-yard, nine-touchdown display. Cook also racked up 319 yards and eight more scores with his feet.

The mere fact that a duo with those numbers is returning should be enough to assure you that Missouri will be far from a pushover this fall, but if you think that’s convincing, just wait until you see its schedule.

The first half of Mizzou’s path holds hardly any adversity

The Tigers begin their 2024 journey with three of their four non-conference opponents, and to say that they have no reason to lose any of them would be a colossal understatement, as first is Murray State, followed by Buffalo, then Boston College — all of which will be on the visiting end.

The Racers just went 2-9 in the FCS, and the Bulls 3-9 in the Group of Five, so even flinching in those battles would be pathetic beyond words. As for the Eagles, they are easily the toughest of the three squads, managing to finish with a positive record in the ACC. But still, that’s the bare minimum when it comes to the standard necessary for downing Mizzou on the road. With that said, I wouldn’t worry too much about them either.

After that, the Tigers begin their SEC play in the most forgiving way possible — against the Vanderbilt Commodores, while once again being in the comfort of their own home. Sticking with the predominant theme we gathered from the names already covered, Vandy is simply too terrible to humor, having just gone 2-10 and sitting with a four-year losing streak to Mizzou.

A well-placed bye week then prepares the Tigers for their first true challenge of the season, but even it arrives with some high spirits looming.

The Texas A&M Aggies will be welcoming them to Kyle Field for their road opener, and if that place can spawn an environment intimidating enough to scare Alabama, I can’t imagine that it’s incapable of doing the same to Missouri.

The hope comes in when remembering that A&M has bee mediocre to an inexcusable degree as of late, having gone 12-13 since 2021. As a result of such failure, the team is now under new management, with former Aggies defensive coordinator and Duke head coach Mike Elko at the helm. While he clearly has the experience to lead the program back to relevance, he will nonetheless be taking over a program that Jimbo Fisher ruined from the inside — and we all know the trial and error that a rebuild requires after damage like that.

With that stuff in mind, this matchup grows rather blurry when attempting to predict its outcome, so we’ll just chalk it up as a go-either-way game. But don’t you go feeling sorry for the Tigers now, as before we can even send up a prayer for them, their slate leads them right back to the mincemeat.

After one bump in road, Missouri gets two more dubs on a silver platter

I’m no stranger to hyperbole, and I say that with pride, as I often embrace my tendency to fly off the handle while sharing my takes. That could not be further from the case here though, when I say that the next opponent, UMass, has been the worst FBS-level football team of recent memory. If you don’t believe me, just know that the Minutemen have garnered only six wins over the last five seasons, and half of them were obtained in 2023. All in favor of no further comment? Excellent.

From there, it’s back home for a date with Auburn, another once-competitive SEC school that’s down on its luck. Especially since that will be Missouri’s Homecoming game, this battle should also find itself in the win column.

That brings us to Week 9, which is undoubtedly the climax of the season, as it begins a short stretch where Mizzou is sure to suffer at least one loss, whether it be courtesy of the Alabama Crimson Tide or the Oklahoma Sooners.

Yes, Alabama is enduring a change at head coach, Oklahoma will be in Columbia, and a bye week keeps them separated, but I just can’t see a world where Missouri’s ceiling reaches so high that it can survive both of those guys (if one of them).

It’s not all bad though, as it should now be smooth sailing to the postseason

At this point, the only quadrant of the schedule left to tackle is the downward stretch, and they don’t call it that for nothing.

All things considered, the Tigers struck gold with their closing opponents, as their shots at victory look increasingly positive over the course of Weeks 12, 13, and 14. Throughout that span, they meet both South Carolina and Mississippi State on the road before hosting Arkansas for the Battle Line Rivalry.

With Mizzou being fresh off of blowout wins against two of those foes, and all three of them missing out on a bowl last season, this schedule’s conclusion should be just as encouraging as its introduction.

Sure, Missouri’s 2023 story was one it doesn’t hear a lot, and many of the characters not returning for the sequel definitely conjures some questions regarding how good it will be. However, the Tigers both bringing back pivotal pieces of their offense and having just a few issues on their calendar worth addressing is quite gracious.

It’s so gracious, in fact, that I don’t believe Mizzou has any business entering the upcoming postseason with more than three losses — or in other words, the team having to duke it out in a bowl for win No. 10 should be as bad as its circumstances get. Therefore, the Tigers running it back seems like nothing short of a guarantee.

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