Every year, Missouri builds a goal pyramid.
Lay the proper foundation, achieve those baseline goals, and the payoff could be a national championship at the apex.
The Tigers came close in 2007 and 2013. Wins against Oklahoma in the Big 12 title game or Auburn in the SEC Championship Game during those seasons probably would have resulted in national title-game appearance.
It won’t happen in 2015.
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Missouri’s hopes for a College Football Playoff berth might have evaporated with an injury-plagued loss Sept. 26 at Kentucky.
They certainly vanished Oct. 10 with a lopsided home loss against Florida, but a third straight SEC East crown and fifth conference title game appearance in nine seasons remained within the realm of possibility.
That changed after Missouri failed to score a touchdown for the second straight week in a 9-6 loss last Saturday at Georgia.
It’s a disappointing predicament, but the Tigers aren’t alone in falling from championship contention and it doesn’t mean there’s nothing left to play for — a point coach Gary Pinkel hammered home in the last few days.
“Those are our goals, but another part of that is to go to a bowl, win a bowl game and be bowl champions,” Pinkel said. “So, there’s a lot out there. There are eight teams that are going to play in (conference) championship games around the country in the Power Five (conferences). … There are probably going to be 15 teams outside of that that’ll be nationally ranked at the end of the year. I cover all of those things with our players.”
The Tigers have lost consecutive games for the first time since the end of the 2012 season, so the immediate goal is stopping that slide at 3 p.m. Saturday at Vanderbilt.
“There’s a lot left to play for,” senior safety and captain Ian Simon said. “The biggest thing is winning out and making sure we go to the best bowl game possible. … We have a lot of football left to play, and we can still do a lot of great things with this team. And we’re going to do it.”
Right now, many have the Tigers pegged for a fourth Independence Bowl since 2003, but that could change with a couple victories.
“We know we can’t compete for a championship anymore, but we still have five games that we can win and make a good season out of this,” junior linebacker Michael Scherer said. “If we win five games and a bowl game, we’re what, 10-3 again? That’s not too bad.”
It starts with a Commodores. A victory in Nashville would bring the Tigers within a victory of securing bowl eligibility for the 10th time in 11 seasons.
“We can still make a really good bowl game,” senior center and captain Evan Boehm said. “We have five games left, and these five games are more important than any other five games. … It’s going to be a tough game at Vanderbilt, and we’ve got to be 1-0 this week.”
Pinkel made it clear that the focus remains on the 2015 season and making the most of it.
“I’m not thinking at all about next year,” Pinkel said. “I’m thinking about Vanderbilt. Absolutely, 100 percent, that’s all I care about.”
He’s not even worried yet about bowl eligibility.
“It’s Vanderbilt, and winning that game,” Pinkel said. “Our players get the numbers.”