If there was a naughty or nice list for college football fans, I’d likely be on the naughty list this year.
I did make it to one Mizzou home game this year and watched most of the others, but haven’t followed the sport as closely this season as I have in the past.
Before I get into that though, the Tigers are back to being a team that earns a bowl game every year. It wasn’t that long ago the program was down in the dumps after missing out on bowl opportunities in 2015 and 2016 and starting off the year 1-5 in 2017.
Head Coach Barry Odom has this team headed back in the right direction and the Tigers once again closed out the year on a winning steak.
After posting a .500 record through the first eight games of the season, the Tigers finished the regular season with four wins in a row. Their 8-4 record was good for fourth in the SEC’s East division and earned the Tigers a berth in the Liberty Bowl in Memphis, Tenn., on New Year’s Eve at 2:45 p.m.
Waiting for Mizzou in that game will be former Big 12 rival, Oklahoma State.
Two of the Tigers’ losses were far from unexpected, coming at the hands of perennial powerhouses Georgia and Alabama, two teams which entered this past weekend’s SEC Championship game among the top five teams in the national rankings.
The other two losses were harder to swallow, coming on a last-second field goal at South Carolina and a loss against Kentucky in controversial fashion for the second year in a row.
Still, the Tigers end the regular season ranked No. 23 in the College Football Playoff rankings, No. 24 in the AP poll and No. 29 in the coaches poll.
Opposing the Tigers on New Year’s Eve will be a Cowboys team that is 6-6. The last time Mizzou played a former conference rival from the Big 12, things didn’t go so well as the Tigers were on the wrong end of a 33-16 score against Texas in last year’s Outback Bowl.
However, Mizzou quarterback Drew Lock has another year of experience under his belt. He was a mediocre 18-34 passing against the Longhorns in last season’s bowl effort with one touchdown and one interception. While the touchdowns aren’t as prevalent for Lock this season as the 44 he threw in 2017, interceptions are down from 13 to eight and he’s raised his completion percentage by six points.
The Cowboys have lost three of their last four games to end the season, but their last two wins were both against teams ranked in the top 10 at the time, Texas and West Virginia. The fact that they’re just a .500 team doesn’t make them less of a threat.
Lock and the rest of Mizzou’s offense are going to have to be on their game to come away with a win this year as each team to have beaten Oklahoma State this season has one thing in common — they all scored at least 30 points to do it.
Now, as I eluded to earlier, I haven’t followed the college games as closely this season as I typically do and not as much as I would have liked.
A big reason for that is the lack of parity in the sport the last couple of years. Without looking it up, I couldn’t tell you the last time Alabama didn’t come into the season No. 1 and end the season either No. 1 or No. 2.
Don’t get me wrong, the Alabama and Clemson games have been great in the college playoffs each of the past three seasons. They earned the right to be there and they deserved it. However, I find myself much less interested in the regular season outside of my go-to team when there are so few playoff spots to fight for and half of them feel predestined to go to Tuscaloosa and Clemson each year.
This season, three of the four teams selected for the College Football Playoff were also in the same position last year. The only change is Notre Dame substituted in for Georgia. And had the Fighting Irish not turned in an undefeated season, they likely would have been bounced in favor of Georgia, which only dropped to No. 5 in the rankings after losing to Alabama in the conference championship, allowing Oklahoma to slide up into the four seed.
If that had been the case, we could easily be going into the playoffs this year with the same four teams again.
It’s the same situation that had contributed to limiting my interest in the NBA regular season the past couple of years, knowing a finals showdown between the Golden State Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers was as close to a certainty as you can get. That changes this year with LeBron James parting ways with the Cavaliers in favor of the Los Angeles Lakers this past summer. Thus, my interest in the NBA games this time of year is larger than it has been for quite some time.
I’m not saying there is a problem with the college football playoff system. The end product is great to watch. However, there’s an idiom about not wanting to see how the sausage is made that’s starting to apply more and more.