Missouri’s 2018 football season ended with a heart-breaking bowl loss and the Tigers outside of the top 25 polls. What’s more, Mizzou bid farewell to record-setting quarterback Drew Lock.
Expectations for a good season haven’t decreased in the least. At least two preseason college football magazines have the Tigers in the top 25, and coach Barry Odom welcomes the news.
“Heck yes, it’s awesome,” said Odom, who spoke to a group of reporters on Wednesday. “I’ll take it any week we can get it. I think we’re going to be a really good football team. Some of that exposure is good. Our team accepts the ownership that comes with it. I want to stay there and move up. I love it.”
For motivation, Odom finds this is a can’t-lose proposition. He channels positive energy when the news is good. If there’s a perceived slight — Missouri isn’t in all of the preseason polls — that works, too.
“If we weren’t ranked, I’d say motivationally we’d use it,” he said.
There isn’t a perceived reset for the post-Lock Tigers largely because of the replacement, Kelly Bryant, who led Clemson to the ACC championship and College Football Playoff when he replaced Deshaun Watson.
When Clemson went with Trevor Lawrence at quarterback last season, Bryant sought a new destination and picked Mizzou. In 2017, Bryant competed 66% of passes for 2,802 yards and 13 touchdowns. A more willing runner than Lock, Bryant rushed for 665 yards and 11 touchdowns that season.
Plenty of offensive weapons return, including tight end Albert Okwuegbunam, who according to Odom “looks good, and mentally looks to me like he’s on a mission” after a shoulder injury, and running back Larry Rountree III, to believe the Tigers’ offense that averaged 481 yards last season won’t miss a beat.
Missouri’s offseason also unfolds with the specter of a postseason ban. In January, the NCAA announced the Tigers would be ineligible for the postseason because of the actions of a tutor who helped former players with coursework.
Mizzou appealed the ban and is awaiting word from the NCAA.
“I wish I knew,” Odom said. “You hear there’s more discussion that takes place in mid-July, but I don’t know. Late summer or early fall is what we’re being told.”
The Tigers haven’t lost a player because of the news.
“We’re pretty open what we talk about team-wise,” Odom said. “But it weighs on you. It’s there, it’s real. But they’ve been really, maybe more honest than I want them to be about that stuff.
“But we’ve been able to have dialogue. You don’t know what’s going to be handed to you. Is it still weighing on them? Yeah, you bet. They know about it they hear about it, see it. But also they’ve taken the approach it’s us against everybody else.
“When (a decision) is handed down, whether it goes or stays, how are you going to react to it. That’s the next biggest hurdle.”
Odom also didn’t have news on quarterback Shawn Robinson, the TCU transfer who hopes to be declared immediately eligible by the NCAA.
“Hopefully (the NCAA) gets to us at some point,” Odom said. “That’s something he and his family wanted to pursue. If it works, awesome. If not, it’s going to work either way.”
The recruiting calendar, which now extends into June, has made it difficult for Odom to get much down time, and that includes taking in the St. Louis Blues’ Stanley Cup championship parade on Saturday.
“I really wanted to go for the parade,” Odom said. “We had camp, officials visits, so had to live through pictures and video. It looked like helluva lot of fun.”