Most of Missouri’s new football recruits are now on campus and the returning players are back after a brief break between the spring and summer semesters.
The next three months before the Tigers open the 2017 season against Missouri State on Sept. 2 at Memorial Stadium are critical.
Mizzou’s schedule, which is front-loaded with home games, theoretically should help second-year coach Barry Odom’s squad get off to a fast start.
The Tigers haven’t played in a bowl game during the last two seasons, so that’s a critical goal to achieve in 2017.
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Missouri needs to return to relevance with respect to the postseason and it would represent a major positive step for Odom’s burgeoning tenure.
Of course, two of those four September home games are against conference foes, South Carolina and Auburn, so maybe it won’t be quite so easy.
Here’s a breakdown of the 2017 slate of games:
2017 MISSOURI FOOTBALL SCHEDULE
Sept. 2 vs. Missouri State (4-7, 2-6 MVC in 2016): The Bears are 5-17, including a 2-14 record in the Missouri Valley Conference, during the last two seasons. After a 3-1 start in former Missouri assistant coach Dave Steckel’s second season, the Bears dropped six of seven down the stretch, so it’s a program still searching for success. The Tigers won the only previous meeting against Missouri State 10-0 on Oct. 6, 1923, in Columbia. Ninety-four years later, Missouri better be able to chalk up “The Steckel Bowl” as a win or it’s going to be a very long season.
Sept. 9 vs. South Carolina (6-7, 3-5 SEC): The Gamecocks finished last season — Will Muschamp’s first in Columbia, S.C. — with an overtime loss against South Florida in the Birmingham Bowl, but getting to the postseason was a coup in itself. Quarterback Jake Bentley led South Carolina to a 31-21 win in last season’s meeting against Missouri at Williams-Brice Stadium. The annual Columbia Cup rematch between second-year coaches promises to be a terrific early-season test, with hefty bowl-eligibility implications for both teams.
Sept. 16 vs. Purdue (3-9, 1-8 Big Ten): The Tigers are 1-5 all-time against Purdue, including three shutout losses, with the only win coming via a 14-7 victory in Columbia during the 1953 season. The schools haven’t met on the gridiron since 1980, but it’s a perfect time to renew “The Cuonzo Martin Bowl.” Martin, who was hired in March as Mizzou’s new men’s basketball coach, played for the Boilermakers in the early 1990s. The game also represents the first major road test for new Purdue coach Jeff Brohm, who arrived from Western Kentucky in December. There could be a few points scored in this contest, considering the offenses that will be deployed.
Sept. 23 vs. Auburn (8-5, 5-3 SEC): This will be the first regular-season meeting between the programs since Mizzou joined the SEC. Auburn knocked off MU 59-42 in the 2013 SEC Championship Game. Al Onofrio’s Tigers beat Auburn in the 1973 Sun Bowl in the only other meeting. Auburn finished 8-5 last season, losing to Oklahoma in the Sugar Bowl. Mizzou almost certainly won’t be favored in “The Realignment Bowl,” so it will be a chance to send a message.
Oct. 7 at Kentucky (7-6, 4-4 SEC): The Wildcats lead the series 4-3, including two consecutive wins and a 2-1 record in Lexington, Ky. The Tigers won the first three meetings as conference rivals by a combined score of 101-37, but coach Mark Stoops’ squad delivered its biggest win the series — a 35-21 woodshedding — last season at Memorial Stadium. Mizzou doesn’t have to win the game to make a bowl, but it would go a long way toward ensuring a postseason return. Of course, “The Prelude Bowl” still probably won’t be as interesting as the two basketball meetings a few months later.
Oct. 14 at Georgia: The Tigers are 1-5 all-time against the Bulldogs, but Mizzou’s never seemed intimidated by Sanford Stadium. During the 2013 run to the SEC East title, a 41-26 win in Athens, Ga., served notice that the Tigers were legit. Two years ago, Missouri should have won between the hedges again, but the offense sputtered in a 9-6 loss. This has quietly developed into a nice potential rivalry, especially after last season’s epic last-minute win by Georgia, but Drew Lock needs to outduel Jacob Eason to breathe real life into “The Payback Bowl.”
Oct. 21 vs. Idaho (9-4, 6-2 Sun Belt): The Vandals’ nine wins last season matched the program’s combined wins for the previous five years, including three straight one-win campaigns during 2012-14. Still, Mizzou can’t afford another shocking homecoming loss against a mid-major, like last year’s disappointing and injury-filled defeat against Middle Tennessee. Expect a fired up Tigers squad to roll in “The Homecoming Redemption Bowl.”
Oct. 28 at Connecticut (3-9, 1-7 AAC): An astounding four teams, including the Huskies, finished tied for last at 1-7 in the American Athletic Conference last season. Even on the road, this isn’t a matchup that should trouble Missouri too much, if it really has turned a corner back to national respectability. Former Tigers quarterback Maty Mauk saved the day during the only previous meeting with UConn, a 9-6 win in September 2015. Mizzou will hope for a more convincing win in the “Sorry, John Dorsey Bowl” rematch. Dorsey, the Chiefs’ general manager, is a Connecticut alumnus.
Nov. 4 vs. Florida (9-4, 6-2 SEC): The last four games in the series haven’t been particularly close. The Tigers rolled by an average of 24 points in back-to-back wins in 2013-14, but the Gators have been almost as dominant the last two seasons, with a pair of wins by 22 points on average. If the “Take Out the King Bowl” means something for Mizzou as far as the SEC East race, the season probably can be considered a success, since Florida’s reached the SEC Championship Game in both seasons under Jim McElwain.
Nov. 11 vs. Tennessee (9-4, 6-2 SEC): Missouri totaled more than 700 yards last season at Neyland Stadium, but it’s hard to win giving up nine touchdowns. The Tigers were undefeated against the Volunteers during the first three seasons of SEC membership, but the table has turned in the “Championship of Life Bowl.” Just like with the Florida game, if Mizzou still has SEC East title aspirations when this game arrives, it’s already been a great year.
Nov. 18 at Vanderbilt (6-7, 3-5 SEC): After going 0-2-1 in its first three meetings with the Commodores, the Tigers have won three of four games in the series between two of the four Association of American Universities research powerhouses (Texas A&M and Florida are the others). Perhaps no game in 2015 was more disappointing for Drew Lock and Mizzou than a 10-3 loss in Nashville. Then again, perhaps no loss in 2016 was more disappointing for coach Derek Mason and Vanderbilt than a 26-17 loss in Columbia. The loser of the “Yes, We’re Actually in the SEC Bowl” might be eliminated from bowl contention.
Nov. 24 at Arkansas (7-6, 3-5 SEC): It’ll never replace the Border War in intensity, but the Battle Line Rivalry gives the Tigers and Razorbacks a place of prominence among those not choosing to brave Black Friday crowds. The games have been meaningful or compelling, too. Mizzou fended off Arkansas in 2014 to secure a second straight SEC East title, the Hogs dealt a crushing blow during a soggy end to Gary Pinkel’s reign that somehow summed up the 2015 season perfectly, and last season’s game — though fairly meaningless — was a fun game as MU rallied from a 17-point halftime deficit for a 28-24 win. As long as Tigers senior linebacker Eric Beisel keeps getting a say, the rivalry will continue to matter more and more.