I don't know if there's another program in the Southeastern Conference that has had a more up and down six months than the Missouri Tigers have had. It all began with Gary Pinkel's arrest for DWI in April, a quarterback controversy in the first month of the season, Maty Mauk's scooter joyride and now Dorial Green-Beckham's arrest for marijuana possession.
There's plenty to talk about concerning the Tigers on and off the field.
Let's assess what has happened on the field first. Mizzou sits at 3-2 roughly halfway through the season with what should be a win (although there are never any guarantees in conference games) against Vanderbilt at home this weekend to round out. Mizzou sat at 2-3 this time last season and rattled off an impressive second half of the season to gain a bowl berth and some encouragement heading into the offseason.
It wasn't as if the Tigers were guaranteed wins versus Georgia and South Carolina. A 62-10 drubbing of FCS Southeastern Louisiana seems like it was ages ago, when the Tiger defense put the game away in the first five minutes of regulation. The last four weeks of the schedule have been trying to say the least for Pinkel & Co.
The UGA and SC games were a tough order to fill in the first two weeks of SEC conference play, but close wins in the trappiest of trap games vs. Arizona State and Central Florida weren't easy to come by either.
Plainly put, the Tigers should be happy to be at 3-2, instead of 1-4. Mizzou's strength of schedule is near the top of the list in the NCAA football bowl subdivision and can only help them down the road as they get into the steak and frites of the schedule, with their next five games coming against SEC com(PAWWWWWL)tetion.
Kendial Lawrence has made the sting of Henry Josey's injury easier to take. Lawrence has shouldered the load of the Tigers' rushing attack and done it well. With Franklin's injury woes, inability to find time in the pocket and 86th ranked (WHAT IN THE NAME OF KIRK FARMER IS GOING ON???) passing attack, Lawrence has been a breath of fresh air.
My main gripe of the season has been offensive coordinator David Yost's gameplanning. With the Tigers' current lack of depth/talent on the offensive line, I would have expected Yost to get more creative with his playcalling. Unfortunately, all we've seen is a steady diet of zone read plays and busted rocket sweeps. Franklin is not Brad Smith and I'm sure Yost knows that, but you wouldn't be able to tell by his play selection.
On to the defense. I don't know if I've seen a more talented group on the defensive side of the ball for the Black and Gold in my entire life. I also don't know if I've seen a worse group of tacklers in that same time period. Mizzou's inability to wrap up running backs and receivers, especially outside of the box, has been concerning. Mizzou seems to be going for the turnover, which I don't mind, on every play (which I do mind).
The talent-laden defense has been done zero favors by the offense, which has given up the ball seemingly as many times as the defense has taken it away. Short fields against Georgia and South Carolina were the death knell for the Tigers in their first SEC games. Well, that and not being able to force an incompletion to Connor Shaw.
I guess my point is that it could be a lot worse for Mizzou, but it certainly could be a lot better. There are some winnable games coming up on the schedule for the Tigers and it seems like they weathered the storm in the first five games, escaping injuries and the turnover bug to post a 3-2 record. Vanderbilt and Kentucky at home should be sure wins, while I'm praying that no one gets killed when Alabama comes to town. After those three games, the Tigers will be tested. No doubt. Road games vs. Tennessee, Florida and Texas A&M in the final four games of the season will prove whether or not this was a successful first season in the SEC.
I'm still comfortable with my prediction of 8-4 for the Tigers, but 9-3 is certainly not out of the realm of possibility, as we've seen the Tigers reel off impressive second halves of the season in the past. There aren't any games Mizzou can look past on the schedule (maybe with the exception of the J-Bowl against Syracuse in November).
I think we've seen the worst days of this Mizzou team and hopefully, they're behind the Tigers. James Franklin has to improve, as the Corbin Berkstresser monkey may never get off of his back for the rest of his career based on one game of average play from the redshirt freshman QB against Arizona State.
The Tigers are healthy now. With Zaviar Gooden, Elvis Fisher and Franklin all back this weekend vs. Vandy. There aren't many more excuses for Pinkel. A 6-6 finish, or god forbid worse, and there will be more and more questions about Pinkel heading into the spring of 2013. I am not a proponent of firing Pinkel, but there are certainly many who foolishly feel someone else could do a better job.
There's certainly a lot more than bowl eligibility on the line for the Tigers.