Outside of Missouri, expectations for new football coach Barry Odom’s first season are low.
Most publications predict a sub-.500 record, which would mean back-to-back seasons without a bowl game for the first time since 2002 when the Tigers missed the postseason during Gary Pinkel’s first two years.
Betting odds peg Mizzou as roughly a 10-point underdog Saturday during the season opener at West Virginia.
That’s just fine with Odom, who said Monday during his first game-week press conference as the Tigers’ coach that he relishes the underdog role.
“Yeah, I’ll be honest,” he said. “I really like it. I’d like the opportunity to go prove people wrong. That’s the way I was brought up.”
Odom’s offseason tagline has been “toughness wins.” It’s omnipresent on social media and in his interactions with players, but the subtext is that Mizzou has to be tougher to reach the lofty goals — championship goals — he has for the program.
The Tigers’ roster isn’t stacked with five-star recruits.
The schedule is heavy with daunting road games — beginning with the Mountaineers and including visits to LSU, Florida and Tennessee.
Despite a share of five division titles since 2007, Mizzou is better-known nationally for off-field things like last November’s boycott and former quarterback Maty Mauk’s repeated suspensions.
“Mizzou’s culture all along is having two-star guys, one-star guys, three-star guys that no one's ever heard of,” sophomore left guard Kevin Pendleton said. “(Junior defensive end) Charles Harris, you guys didn’t even know who he was in high school; now, he’s a second-team All-SEC guy. We’ve always been, quote-end quote, underdogs, so we embrace it.”
The Tigers aren’t asking for respect. They intend to earn it.
“We’re ready to take the SEC by storm,” junior strong safety Anthony Sherrils said. “I really don’t feel like we are the underdogs. Outside perception, they might see us as the underdog, but we know what we’ve done in the off-season and how we’ve prepared. Hey, they’ll see it on Saturday. … We feel that (disrespect), but we’ll put the country on notice.”
Missouri is determined to enjoy its charter flight home from Morgantown, W.Va., on Saturday night after an 11 a.m. kickoff on Fox Sports 1.
“Oh yeah, for sure, we’re going to have a great time on the plane,” Harris said. “‘POP, party on the plane — it’s going to be a great one.”
Odom admitted that he’d prefer a different opening game, but he’s also embracing the challenge given that there’s no other choice.
“If I was setting the schedule, it would be a little bit different, but I’m excited about the opportunity as well,” he said.
Three years ago, Missouri flew under the radar during its first run to the SEC Championship Game in Atlanta.
Two years ago, few believed the Tigers could go do it again, but they did.
Things were a disaster in many ways last season, but Mizzou is eager to prove that season was the aberration and not the SEC East-winning seasons.
“I love proving people wrong,” senior defensive tackle Josh Augusta said. “People saying we’re going to lose just gives us more energy. … Everybody out here is working hard and has got the same dream. Everybody wants to get back to that point. For the older guys, we want to show the younger guys how it feels to get to that point.”
During the 229 days between the start of offseason workouts Jan. 18 and the season opener against the Mountaineers, the Tigers have been focused on getting the Odom era off on the right foot — even if others aren’t expecting it.
“I love being the underdog just because they have no idea what is coming to them,” sophomore right tackle Paul Adams said. “We've been working so hard since Jan. 18 for this moment this coming Saturday. It’s a coming out party.”