Believe it or not, Missouri might not have hit rock bottom. Not yet.
No, believe it or not, a loss to Vanderbilt was not the worst it can get. Neither was being run over by the legs of Kentucky’s Lynn Bowden Jr. And sure, sputtering losses to two of the nation’s best in Georgia and Florida felt like piling on after Vanderbilt and Kentucky, but they weren’t the worst it can get, either. A loss to a Tennessee team with the same record on senior night Saturday at Faurot Field? Another gut punch, to be sure. But still, not the end for Missouri and the 2019 season.
When we know what happens on Black Friday, then we’ll know. Despite how it may feel, Missouri is still playing for something. And it isn’t just pride.
Well, some of it is pride. There is a decent amount of pride at stake, considering how much this Arkansas team has struggled. There’s bad, and there’s Arkansas bad. The Razorbacks are the worst in the SEC with a 2-9 record. They’re coming off a 56-20 loss to LSU, after which Tigers coach Ed Orgeron said there would not be much of a celebration for beating Arkansas because “they haven’t beaten anybody the whole time.”
So, unless something crazy happens, the Missouri Tigers should win in Little Rock and get that sixth ‘W’ for which they are still very much playing.
That win would mean a few things. It would mean, for one, the Tigers would not finish the 12-game regular season with a losing record. Second, Missouri would get to end a tumultuous year with a victory.
And third, a sixth win would make the Tigers bowl-eligible.
Of course, there’s a major asterisk next to that third point. Missouri still awaits the results of its appeal this past summer of sanctions handed down by the NCAA Committee on Infractions for academic misconduct in the MU athletic department. If the Tigers don’t receive that ruling before bowl season, they will be able to play in the postseason.
Until a decision on the appeal is made, a stay is placed on all the penalties originally given to MU in January.
So, let’s proceed as if the Tigers do not hear from the Infractions Appeals Committee by bowl season, and they beat Arkansas on Friday in Little Rock.
Grab your shoes and find the nearest lanes. It’s time to go bowling.
Missouri, of course, can forget about the College Football Playoff bowl games or any of the other New Year’s bowl games. So that means the Tigers will not play in the Fiesta Bowl or Peach Bowl (the two semifinals this year), the Cotton Bowl, Orange Bowl, Sugar Bowl or Rose Bowl.
The next top bowl option for SEC schools, the Citrus Bowl, is also not going to happen for a 6-6 team ... although representatives from the Citrus Bowl have attended three of Missouri’s games: Kentucky, Georgia and Florida. (There’s a better chance they were there to watch the team not wearing black and gold in those games.) The Citrus Bowl has its pick of SEC teams after the College Football Playoffs selection process finishes.
So, next up is the Pool of Six. This is where Missouri fans should pay attention.
These bowl games are as follows: The Outback Bowl in Tampa (Jan. 1), Taxslayer Bowl in Jacksonville (Jan. 2), Music City Bowl in Nashville (Dec. 30), Texas Bowl in Houston (Dec. 27), Belk Bowl in Charlotte (Dec. 31) and the Liberty Bowl in Memphis (Dec. 31).
The Liberty Bowl had two representatives at Missouri’s loss to Tennessee on Saturday night, likely there to watch both teams. Chances are good, though, that the Tigers will not play in the Liberty Bowl, where they lost to Oklahoma State late last December, two years in a row. And after Saturday, the Liberty is likely eyeing Tennessee now anyway.
Going into the final week of the regular season, eight SEC teams have better records than Missouri. Mississippi State has an identical 5-6 record.
Let’s say two SEC teams make the national semifinals. That leaves six SEC teams with better records than the Tigers that need to be placed in SEC-affiliated bowls. Then let’s also take two more to fill the Orange Bowl and Sugar Bowl spots, both of which can go to SEC teams. That leaves four with better records.
The Citrus Bowl likely will take the next-best SEC team, and that leaves three with better records than the Tigers and twice as many spots to fill in the Pool of Six.
Assuming they both get their sixth wins this weekend, add Missouri and Mississippi State to those three remaining teams, and that puts Missouri among the top five for those six spots.
We’ve already established that the Liberty Bowl likely won’t pick the Tigers again, so that leaves Tampa, Jacksonville, Nashville, Houston and Charlotte as possible destinations.
Keep an eye on the Taxslayer Bowl, formerly known as the Gator Bowl. It sent representatives to watch the Tigers multiple times this season, specifically against West Virginia and Georgia. In ESPN’s latest bowl projections, Mark Schlabach placed Missouri in Jacksonville, against Iowa.
The Belk Bowl also has potential to play host to the Tigers. ESPN’s Kyle Bonagura picked Missouri to face Virginia Tech in Charlotte. Jerry Palm of CBS Sports made the same projection in his picks after Week 13.
If fewer than two SEC teams make the College Football Playoff, then the other bowl openings will become more crowded. If Missouri doesn’t make it into the Pool of Six, the Birmingham Bowl (Jan. 2) and the Independence Bowl in Shreveport, Louisiana (Dec. 26) are the next two selectors of SEC teams.
But none of this matters if Missouri doesn’t beat Arkansas on Friday.
That moment truly would serve as rock bottom.
Supervising editor is Michael Knisley.