I’ll be the first to admit, I did not think Missouri was worthy of joining the SEC when the conference announced the expansion in 2011 and added them in 2012. Sure, they were coming off some great seasons in the Big 12 North, but beating up on Kansas and Iowa State year after year only to get consistently stomped by Oklahoma in the Big 12 Championship was hardly a top caliber resume. I’ll also be the first to admit that I was fine eating my words when Missouri won the SEC East in 2013 and in 2014. The division was obviously starving for relevancy in the midst of down years from Florida and Tennessee and any team that could keep it in the spotlight (other than Florida) was fine with me. Throw in a few solid basketball seasons under Frank Haith over that same stretch, before the ensuing shit storm of course, and Mizzou looked like it really did belong with the big boys.
Since then, though, it has been a steady decline from both sports, culminating Saturday with what may be the most embarrassing showing by an SEC football program in recent history.
That picture there was taken five minutes before kickoff. At an SEC football game. Against a Big 10 opponent. You know, something that should at least be somewhat exciting. Hell, I know Mizzou isn’t Tennessee, but the Vols put almost 100,000 in the seats for FCS squad Indiana State and Mizzou can’t even fill half of the lower section of their stadium against Purdue? If this doesn’t seem like a problem to you, you need to hold the SEC, and the teams in it, to a higher standard.
And let’s not forget the product that Mizzou trotted onto the field that day. They got absolutely walloped at home by a team projected to finish last in the Big Ten West. Not only did they lose an embarrassing 35-3, but they barely scratched 200 yards of offense and held the ball for just about a quarter of the game. If you’re going to play shitty football in the SEC, you at least need passionate fans to compensate (see: Ole Miss). Missouri proved on Saturday that it can’t provide either right now.
Am I being harsh? Maybe. After all, SEC East contemporaries Kentucky and Vanderbilt also struggle to both sell out games and win on the field. But those schools bring much more to the table in other ways than Mizzou ever will. First, and most obviously, Kentucky doesn’t need to field a good football team. Their basketball team is, has been, and always will be the gold standard of college basketball (damn, that hurt to type). Also, though, and perhaps this is unfair to Missouri, Kentucky and Vanderbilt are in Lexington and Nashville, both historic and notable Southern cities right in the heart of Dixie. The SEC prides itself on its geographic scope more than any other conference in America and it’s not even close. Columbia, Missouri, though? Calling Missouri a southern state is a stretch. Don’t believe me? Ask a bunch of true southerners.
See, they’re fringe at best. And therein lies Mizzou’s true problem. SEC fans will put up with Mississippi State and Vanderbilt fielding terrible football teams because they are undeniably southern schools. Missouri to many fans, though, is that borderline Midwest school that we added 5 years ago just to keep the teams at an even number because we really wanted Texas A&M. Whether it’s fair or not, Mizzou has to go above and beyond to prove that it belongs in the SEC and showings like Saturday, both on the field and in the stands, just aren’t going to cut it.
Map Source: https://fivethirtyeight.com/datalab/which-states-are-in-the-south/
Photo Credit: http://www.stltoday.com/sports/college/mizzou/purdue-buries-mizzou-early-smothers-tigers/article_a55c9d79-93cf-5fbd-a974-a296e543b353.html