Identifying key points from Mizzou football’s season as postseason play approaches

A swirl of storylines regarding Tiger football emerged in 2017.

Missouri football players prepare to run onto the field ahead of Missouri's homecoming game against Idaho on Oct. 21. Maneater File Photo

The 2017 regular season for Missouri football (7-5, 4-4 Southeastern Conference) was a rollercoaster to say the least.

The team looked like it could compete with the best that college football had to offer at certain points in the season. At another time, the team struggled against an FCS opponent.

To help process the events of the regular season, here’s an overview of key observations as the team heads to postseason play.

Things didn’t go according to schedule, but they went according to plan

All in all, Missouri football met the somewhat lofty expectations laid out for it by fans and media pundits in the preseason. In fact, all three Maneater Sports football writers predicted that Missouri would make a bowl in a preseason preview. So, by winning seven games in 2017, the Tigers met expectations.

The surprising part is how the Tigers reached bowl eligibility. They became the first SEC team ever to finish with four conference wins after a 0-4 start and only the 13th in NCAA history to reach a bowl after a 1-5 start.

Missouri’s schedule was front loaded; five of its first six opponents reached bowl eligibility. Auburn, its week four opponent, and Georgia, whom the Tigers faced in week seven, are both in contention to make the College Football Playoff, barring the results of Saturday’s SEC championship game.

The team rattled off six straight wins, outscoring its opponents 308-128. It steamrolled down the stretch in conference play, finding a balance between the passing game and a strong run game.

Barry Odom can rally a team

After the team’s 1-5 start, some in the Missouri fanbase wanted Odom fired — if not seven weeks into the season, at the end of the year.

Odom responded to the outcries by gathering his team around a bonfire at the Mizzou Athletics Training Complex. He and the Tigers burned away some items, including prior game plans and tweets regarding the team, that he thought represented Missouri’s first six games.

Lock expressed his confidence in his team down the stretch after Odom’s burn.

“We threw it all in the cooler, lit it on fire and said goodbye to it,” Lock said. “We’ve got six games coming up for sure where we can go make a difference.”

Either Lock is clairvoyant, or Odom’s plan worked.

Jokes aside, Missouri would go on to dominate its next six games, winning five of them by at least 28 points. After the team’s win against Tennessee on Nov. 11, athletic director Jim Sterk quelled all the rumors regarding Odom’s job security when he announced that Odom would return for at least a third year.

Now, after Missouri thumped Vanderbilt and topped Arkansas on the road, discussions regarding a contract extension have emerged.

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported that Odom and the school have begun negotiations on a new contract. Three years remain in his current contract, which pays him $2.35 million in guaranteed money as well as incentives.

Drew Lock made “the jump”

Enough cannot be said about junior quarterback Drew Lock’s play in 2017. His potential has never been in question, but it was this season when he finally proved his stardom with an incredible run against SEC competition from “Locktober” to November.

He went on to break the SEC single-season record and Missouri program record for passing touchdowns with 43 on the season. Many Missouri fans had fun with his incredible stretch.

Some attributed his success to the “Milly Rock” dance move that an October Mizzou Athletics YouTube video showed him doing.

Either way, Missouri’s signal-caller played the best football of his career over the winning streak, and has even garnered 2018 NFL Draft attention.

Injured players, and those who took a step back

An overlooked aspect of the team’s success was its ability to overcome the loss of its starting running back, sophomore Damarea Crockett. After his season-ending shoulder surgery, the team went 6-0 without its 2016 1,000-plus yard rusher, in large part thanks to a strong effort from senior Ish Witter, who needs just eight yards in the team’s bowl game to eclipse 1,000 yards rushing on the season. Freshman Larry Rountree III has also positively impacted Missouri’s running game, recording 629 yards and six touchdowns.

Missouri’s tight end passing game also changed mightily. Junior Kendall Blanton and senior Jason Reese regressed with the emergence of freshman tight end Albert Okwuegbunam, who caught a whopping 11 touchdowns on the season.

Special teams got it together

Missouri fans, take it easy on Tucker McCann. The Tigers’ starting kicker was on the receiving end of most of Missouri fans’ animosity during a 4-8 2016 season after missing six field goals and four extra points. He responded extremely well in his sophomore season, impressing statistically. He converted 14 of 16 field goals and missed only two of his 52 extra point attempts.

Junior punter Corey Fatony emerged as one of the nation’s elite punters. He wasn’t needed much after October, but he finished the season 11th in the nation in yards per punt. Some might say he was snubbed when he wasn’t selected as a finalist for the Ray Guy Award, the honor given to the nation’s top punter. Nonetheless, 2017 was a great year for Missouri’s “fourth-down quarterback.”

After the team completely botched punt returns in almost every facet early in the season, redshirt sophomore Richaud Floyd played extremely well down the stretch to stabilize the unit. He recorded two punt returns for touchdowns, becoming the first Missouri player to do so since Marcus Murphy took three punts to the house in 2012.

Now, Missouri awaits its bowl destination. It’s unfair to speculate on which bowl the Tigers will be selected to, but representatives from the AutoZone Liberty Bowl in Memphis, Tennessee, were in attendance at each of Missouri’s final four games. The Tigers will find out their bowl fate on Dec. 3.

Edited by Eli Lederman |elederman@themaneater.com

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