The Committee loves Mizzou! That was among the national from the third posting of the Top 25 College Football Playoff rankings.
The Tigers (8-2) catapulted five spots, jumping from No. 14 last week to No. 9 on the updated listing. They also leaped over a one-loss team, Louisville, that was valued three spots above Mizzou in the second CFP assessment on Nov. 4. The Cardinals did move up to No. 10, however.
The No. 9 spot represents the highest rating attached to the Missouri program since the playoff system went into effect for the 2014 season. Missouri is in position to keep moving on up; that should happen if the Tigers stay laser-focused and handle their business by disposing of Florida and Arkansas in the final two games.
Understatement: Missouri isn’t in play for a playoff spot. We can conjure 100 scenarios that would end in a Mizzou miracle, but it ain’t going to happen. If the Tigers were 9-1 instead of 8-2 we’d have something to talk about.
Two teams ranked 9th eventually climbed into the four-team playoff bracket: Michigan State in the 2015 season, and Oklahoma in the 2019 campaign. Both were one-loss teams at the time of the selection. No two-loss team has ever been invited to compete in the playoff.
Missouri’s positives are plentiful. The Committee was obviously impressed by the Tigers’ domineering 36-7 win over a Tennessee team that was ranked ahead of MU last week. The flogging of the Volunteers was the largest margin of victory over a top 15 opponent in the history of Mizzou football.
Missouri hasn’t been this strong – or this visible nationally – since College Football Hall of Fame coach Gary Pinkel led the Tigers to consecutive SEC East titles in 2013-14. Mizzou’s unexpected ascension has been lauded by admiring pundits.
Tuesday night on ESPN, Kirk Herbstreit happily approved of The Committee’s show of respect for the team from the show-me state.
“I absolutely love it,” Herbstreit said. “That is a great football team.”
Wrote Paul Myerberg of USA Today: “There’s plenty to like about the Tigers’ postseason résumé, which includes four SEC wins and a pair of very impressive non-conference victories against Kansas State and Memphis. But the committee is also drawn to a physical style of play that helped Missouri really battle Georgia earlier this month and nearly pull off the upset. At this spot in the rankings and with winnable games against Florida and Arkansas to end the year, the Tigers are in terrific position to lock down an appearance in the New Year’s Six (bowl games.”
Mizzou couldn’t buy this kind of publicity. There is no marketing firm in existence that put together a plan to promote Mizzou and enhance the team’s national image.
I didn’t see this coming.
In late July, Missouri was tabbed to finish sixth in the SEC East, with Vanderbilt on the lowest run. No Mizzou player was selected to the preseason All-SEC first team.
Other than the predictable and mandatory optimism inside the Mizzou football family, how many folks honestly believed the Tigers would pegged at 9th in the nation only eight days before Thanksgiving? So, yeah, by all means add Mizzou football to your “let us be thankful” list. For goodness sake, the Tigers are only one spot behind mighty Alabama in the updated rankings.
Before the season most of the talk percolated along these lines:
– Eli Drinkwitz was entering his fourth season and had to show tangible progress to remain secure in his job. No more six-win, .500 seasons. And now? Drink is probably the leading candidate for SEC Coach of the Year. And now we have nervous media and fans wondering if the Mizzou administration should sweeten his contract – this, after roundly questioning or criticizing his generous contract extension last November.
– The general feeling for Mizzou in 2023: a seven-win season and another nondescript bowl game wouldn’t be particularly exciting – but it was an acceptable step forward. In a realistic best-case scenario, an eight-win season would be fantastic. But I don’t remember seeing confident eight-win forecasts from stable individuals.
– The preseason narrative: quarterback Brady Cook didn’t have a strong arm and the Tigers wouldn’t have the capability of stretching the field to take advantage of Luther Burden III and other talented receivers. The passing game would be limited and dull and relatively easy to defend. Well … this season Cook ranks 15th among Power 5 quarterbacks in average throw depth. Last season he was 37th. See, we didn’t know that Cook played with a torn labrum in 2022, and the injury obviously reduced his arm strength. But the shoulder healed and stronger after successful surgery, and we’ve seen a significant difference in Cook’s downfield air game.
Last season: on passing attempts that traveled 20+ yards in the air, Cook ranked near the bottom of Power 5 quarterbacks in completion percentage (32.2%) and passer rating (82.0.) He had three touchdown passes and one interception on those deeper throws.
This season: a 51.1 completion percentage on pass attempts that travel 20+ yards. That’s tied for fourth-best among Power 5 quarterbacks. And his passer rating on deep balls (93.8) ranks 11th nationally. On 20+ throws, Cook has connected for nine touchdowns and two interceptions.
– The hiring of Kirby Moore as offensive coordinator was an encouraging move. But would Drinkwitz really give more the necessary freedom to run the offense and call the plays? And how much difference would Moore make? I’ll get back to this in a bit.
There were other questions and areas of concern. But pretty much across the board, we can objectively state this: Missouri has outperformed the preseason outlook.
But I want to acknowledge a few things, based on my hopeful but so-so preseason overview.
1. No, I didn’t see a 10-win season and a New Year’s Six bowl. Mizzou isn’t there yet, but two more wins are there for the taking. I thought the max would be eight victories, and I was highly skeptical of that.
2. I didn’t expect Drinkwitz to completely turn the offense over to Moore. I didn’t think Moore’s impact would be so profound. But after holding his cards in the opening two games against South Dakota and Middle Tennessee, Moore laid them on the table and opened up the offense when MU defeated Kansas State in the third game. Moore is creative and he’s good at attacking the vulnerable spot of a defense.
The offense is rolling. The 2022 Mizzou offense ranked 84th among FBS teams with an average of 24.1 points per game against FBS opponents. This season Moore’s offense is 24th nationally with an average of 32.6 points per game against FBS opponents.
3. I didn’t expect to see Brady Cook thriving at such a high level. Once we all learned that his right shoulder was sound, the knowledge stoked optimism. But even then, I did not expect to see Cook standing among the top dozen quarterbacks in Power 5.
Consider: Among 45 Power 5 quarterbacks that have attempted at least 200 passes against FBS defenses, Cook ranks 12th in Expected Points Added (EPA), 9th in percentage of pass plays that were graded “positive.” and 4th in percentage of pass plays that were graded “very successful.” (Source: Sports Info Solutions.)
And that doesn’t even cover Cook’s effective running. Among Power 5 quarterbacks that have at least 20 rushing attempts, Cook ranks 16th in rushing EPA and is 9th in the percentage of QB runs that graded out as “very successful.”
4. Cody Schrader? I did not expect to see him leading the SEC in yards rushing and yards from scrimmage. I didn’t envision Schrader emerging as one of the best backs in the entire nation. I did not think I would see Schrader become the only player in SEC history to amass 200+ yards rushing and 100+ receiving yards in a single game. He’s a wonderful story. He’s also a wonderful running back. Among 118 Power 5 running backs that have at least 50 rushing attempts this season, Schrader is seventh in rushing against FBS competition. He’s also 5th in first downs, 6th in yards after contact, tied for 7th in touchdowns, and 15th in EPA.
Since Week 8, Schrader ranks second among Power 5 running backs in average yards rushing per game against FBS opponents. Schrader is an inspirational leader for his team – and Missouri fans sure are inspired by him too.
5. I thought the Missouri defense would play well. And that’s pretty much turned out as anticipated. But this group keeps getting better. The pass rush. The run defense. The pass defense. I have to go to the metrics here. Over the last three games – South Carolina, Georgia and Tennessee – the MU defense ranks first among SEC teams in Expected Points Saved. And the unit is second to Georgia in expected points saved per play.
“Missouri doesn’t have a glaring weakness, wrote Blake Toppmeyer, the SEC columnist for USA Today. “Cody Schrader is the SEC’s best running back, and Luther Burden is among the conference’s best wide receivers. I’d select Brady Cook third among SEC quarterbacks, behind LSU’s Jayden Daniels and Georgia’s Carson Beck. The offensive line is sturdy, and the defense is dependable.”
Final thought: Isn’t this fun?
Thanks for reading …
Bernie hosts an opinionated and analytical sports-talk show on 590 The Fan, KFNS. It airs 3-6 p.m. Monday through Thursday and 4-6 p.m. on Friday. Stream it live or access the show podcast on 590thefan.com or through the 590 The Fan St. Louis app.
Please follow Bernie on Twitter @miklasz
All stats used in my college football columns are sourced from Sports Info Solutions, Sports Reference, and CFBstats.com unless otherwise noted.
For the last 35 years Bernie Miklasz has entertained, enlightened, and connected with generations of St. Louis sports fans.
While best known for his voice as the lead sports columnist at the Post-Dispatch for 26 years, Bernie has also written for The Athletic, Dallas Morning News and Baltimore News American. Bernie has hosted radio shows in St. Louis, Dallas, Baltimore and Washington D.C.
Bernie, his wife Kirsten and their cats reside in the Skinker-DeBaliviere neighborhood of St. Louis.